Colleges and universities nationwide use social security numbers to identify students. However, this practice leaves students vulnerable to identity theft.
In October, a computer from a California community college containing 12,000 student social security numbers was stolen from an office. Officials at the school reported that the computer was used to print student identification cards.
Many Temple professors ask students to write their social security numbers on an index card on the first day of the semester. The administration uses the same number to look up financial, academic, and other personal records.
For 2001, the Federal Trade Commission reported victims’ personal out-of-pocket expenses totaled over $12,000.
The FTC reported 2,704 identity theft victims in Pennsylvania. Of those, 45 percent were victims of credit card fraud. In the same report, issued in December 2001, 589 complaints originated in Philadelphia.
According to the U.S. Secret Service, losses to businesses and consumers in 1997 from ID fraud totaled more than $800 million.
The US Government’s official identity theft Web site (www.consumer.gov/idtl) advises students to tear or shred bills, including carbon copies, containing any type of sensitive information to avoid thieves who may rummage through dumpsters looking for discarded statements.
The Philadelphia Police Department recommends covering the keypad when accessing ATM machines and never carrying Social Security cards in wallets or purses.
In addition, the PPD lists that the major ways thieves find information is by stealing pre-approved credit card applications and posing as landlords or employers to get credit reports.
Recently, Washington state Governor Gary Locke signed a bill protecting students and faculty against identity theft. The bill will go in to effect July 1, 2002.
The University’s official policy is that a student can use any number he or she chooses. Students should consider changing their student ID to something other than their Social Security Number, or, when asked to provide it verbally, write it down and hand it to the person so they can use it accordingly.
Students who suspect they have been the victim of ID theft should contact the major crediting agencies Equifax at 800-525-6285, Trans Union at 800-680-7289, or Experian at 800-301-7195 to request a personal credit report.