Eggerly ’18 helps foster kids avoid identity theft

May 26, 2016Duke Law News

Miata Eggerly ’18While working at the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse before coming to law school, Miata Eggerly ’18 talked to a lot of people whose identity had been stolen. But about a dozen of the calls she took each day, she said, were from young people who had recently left the foster care system and found that they had been victimized, in some cases by a biological or foster parent.

“They had become emancipated and were ready to start their adult lives, but found they couldn’t get water or electricity in their new apartments, or even a cell phone, because someone was using their Social Security information to get those utilities,” Eggerly said. The theft had often occurred many years earlier.

Eggerly learned that preventative measures, like freezing a child’s credit report, are key to stopping identity theft. “By the time you call the clearinghouse or file a police report, it’s really too late, and the victims are left to rebuild their credit histories,” she said. “I felt really powerless to help these callers.”

She found a way to help almost as soon as she got to Duke, where Director of Public Interest and Pro Bono Kim Burrucker had already resolved to put students to work on the problem. Burrucker had heard many identity theft “war stories” from clients of the Law School’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.

“I started asking children’s advocates, family court judges, and anyone who would listen to share their thoughts on the issue,” Burrucker said. “Few had heard of the problem, but all thought it would warrant investigation.”

Eggerly quickly volunteered to do just that. Under the supervision of Professor Kathryn Webb Bradley, she has canvassed the way states handle identity protection for minors under their protection and has immersed herself both in the policies of the three major credit-reporting agencies and a new North Carolina identity-protection law. Aspects of both trouble her: The $5 fee credit bureaus charge to place a freeze and the requirement that proof of a minor’s identity be submitted by mail instead of online, as it is with adults, may be a financial barrier to agencies and families that impact their ability to take advantage of the law, she said. Through outreach to social service agencies, corporate advocates, and lawmakers, she is investigating how law and policy could be improved.

“This is a challenging project for a 1L to take on and Miata has just taken off with it,” Bradley said. “She has shown creativity and persistence and has, frankly, taken the project further than we thought it would go this year.”