When you think about victims of identity theft, the last thing you might think of is a prison inmate. But the reality is that many inmates get out of prison only to find themselves in a bind because they were subject to identity theft while in prison.
Getting out of jail or prison presents many challenges, but one that most inmates do not expect is identity theft on top of everything else. Some of the stories told by inmates who were released are:
- Someone took out accounts in their name and spent a ton on credit.
- Fraudulent student loans in their name.
- Scammers filed tax returns in their name and received refunds (this accounts for a lot of identity theft scams).
- Social security benefits fraud.
In 2018, statistics showed that at least 181 prison inmates’ credit reports were damaged due to identity theft, and thieves had spent $1.3 million in federal student loans.
Why are Inmates Vulnerable to Identity Theft?
It may seem odd that someone would target inmates to wage campaigns of identity theft and fraud upon but it’s pretty common. Some of the reasons why inmates are such good targets are:
- Some inmates have provided access to their accounts to friends or family members, and that access could result in identity theft. Some identity theft is actually carried out by loved ones.
- Inmates do not have access, nor would they think about accessing their accounts to check on them while incarcerated. Identity theft can go on for a long time without proper monitoring of your accounts.
- Sometimes, other inmates that are released early or prison staff members access accounts on behalf of the inmate and then abuse that privilege.
- Leaked personal data in inmate records. Although many states have tightened up their security, some older records or those already leaked may have contained an inmate’s birthdate, social security number, or other critical details important to an identity thief.
Cleaning up After Identity Theft
Repairing everything after identity theft is difficult for free Americans; it is even more so for inmates in prison. Depending on the length of someone’s sentence, they may not even realize that their identity has been compromised until years later, and the damage may be severe.
Unfortunately, after release, the inmate will need to notify all vendors, banks, lenders, credit card companies, and banks. This is a time-consuming and frustrating task. You have to prove the identity theft by verifying you are who you say you are, then get them to change their records. If someone racked up a lot of debt, you would need to get that company to release it from your name.
If a released prisoner or someone on parole or probation attempts to fix their identity, but they are met with resistance, or the company refuses to believe them, it might make sense to hire legal representation. Inmates are entitled to the same legal rights as anyone else when it comes to fixing their credit and claiming their identity back. Consumer protection agencies might also be able to help, and they often pay legal fees, so if the prisoner is unable to pay, there may be some help there.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) also has some resources for people being released or recently released from prison. One service they perform is checking their credit reports for fraud and suspicious activity.
How to Avoid Identity Theft While Incarcerated
Although identity theft while incarcerated is not a nice thing to think about, there are some steps a prisoner can take to protect themselves from identity theft. According to The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the number one recommendation is to put a credit freeze on all three of their credit reports while they are in jail or prison. This way, no one will be able to open new accounts or access their credit without their authorization. Since most lenders and credit card companies have to pull a credit report before loaning any money, when there is a credit freeze on the account, they will not be able to, and this will raise a red flag of fraud.
Although a credit freeze will not completely protect an inmate, it is a good start. The only thing is you must contact all three credit reporting agencies to put a credit freeze on. Each lender and vendor use different credit reporting bureaus to get their information.
Constant monitoring of your credit report is critical. Sign up for identity theft monitoring to keep an eye on all your accounts for maximum protection.
Allow a trusted family member or close friend access to your accounts and have them provide you with regular updates of any transactions or balances.
Keep informed about any data breaches, especially those that you are involved in. If your information is compromised, have someone you trust change your account passwords to keep them safe.
The reentry process after incarceration can be stressful and difficult without dealing with identity theft. Upon leaving prison and finding out you have a mountain of debt that isn’t yours could be devastating. You may also need to borrow money at some point, and if your credit has suffered, that will be impossible.
Monitoring your credit and accounts during incarceration is a critical piece of the puzzle to keeping your life intact when you re-emerge from the other side of your sentence.
Regardless of the steps you take to protect yourself; you may still find out after release that your identity was stolen. If so, take immediate steps to fix it, and you may want to consult a professional for help.