Project Recover assists survivors of human trafficking address the financial fraud and debt they face post exploitation. The financial fraud is directly associated with trafficker(s) having access to their victim’s identity.
It is important that survivors address the protection of their identity at the earliest possible state post exploitation. Especially if they are at risk of their trafficker(s) attempting to locate them.
The most obvious concern is trafficker(s) continuing to open credit facilities in their victim’s name even after the trafficking has ended. They used a victim’s identity without their knowledge during the trafficking period so it is easy to continue to do so after. This only adds to the additional stress and raises the anxiety of survivors when they become aware of these new debt accounts.
The least obvious is where a trafficker may be attempting to locate their victim.
Both Trans Union and Equifax offer consumers the opportunity to obtain credit reports on line at no cost. Government regulations require both of these agencies to provide this information to consumers. And the average consumer demands easy access to review credit information they are reporting. So it is important to acknowledge that neither Equifax or Trans Union is doing anything more than they are required to do and what consumers want.
For consumers to access their information they need to provide information that only they would know in order to authenticate (confirm) they are that individual. No one would want someone accessing their private information.
Yet there is a caveat to this for any consumer. What information does a consumer need to provide.
They need to provide their personal information such as their name, their date of birth and their social insurance number. In addition, they will also need to provide their physical address and their email address.
In the authentication process they will also be required to answer questions related to the information on their credit report. They may be asked “which of the four following credit card providers do you have an account with?”
For many consumers they have many close family members (and for some even friends) that know the personal information required. How many spouses share a single email address? While much of this is about “trust” trafficker(s) also have this information. Many trafficker(s) have an email address their victim is not even aware of.
Similarly many family members (and again some close friends) may also be able to answer questions such as “who their mobile phone account provider is”. How many Facebook posts from friends we have seen complaining about their mobile or credit card provider? For survivors of trafficking their trafficker generally can answer these questions better than they can, as the trafficker(s) opened the accounts.
When the exploitation ends most all survivors look to open a new bank account. In the process the bank will do a soft inquiry on their credit report. In doing so this will also update the survivor’s address and, if applicable their phone number.
Needing to communicate with family and others survivors will also typically open a new mobile account. Again these organizations will access their credit information to approve the survivor. The address and phone number on their credit file is updates.
Post exploitation it is possible for a trafficker to access the survivor’s credit file on line for the reasons mentioned above. There is no tracking of where or who accessed this information as the report only shows that the “consumer” accessed the information.
With the advertising on the importance of “credit scores” almost every survivor we have worked with have used “free credit score” companies to obtain their credit scores.
The value and importance of a credit score is not for discussion in this update. This being said immediately following their exploitation the credit score for most all survivors should be their least concern.
Signing up for these free credit score programs will also update address and contact information on a survivors’ credit report. Providing yet another avenue for a trafficker(s) to identify where their victim is now residing.
The solution is relatively simple. Survivors can work through Equifax and Trans Union to both change or remove any addresses or email addresses on their accounts. Project Recover also supports survivors in addressing information on their credit file further protecting their identity.
For more information on protecting your identity or, if you are a survivor seeking assistance, go to www.projectrecover.ca