Student identity theft on the rise

How well do you know yourself? Are you the type of person to spend thousands on designer shopping sprees or luxury cars?

No? What if your monthly credit card statement said differently?

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, and University students are counting themselves among the victims. A Federal Trade Commission survey reports 9.9 million victims within the past year alone.

Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information and uses it to commit crimes like fraud.

The crime can take two forms, financial and criminal. Examples of financial identity theft include internet, bank and credit-card fraud. Criminal identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to enter a country or to obtain permits.

The University’s Student Technology Center held a presentation yesterday to help students and raise awareness of the issue. ITS Security Analyst Thomas Roberts was the presenter.

Roberts, who investigates computer related crimes on campus, said students are susceptible to both kinds of identity theft.

“Students don’t usually worry about these crimes because of their inexperience with financial matters and limited credit history,” he said. “That’s what makes them the most vulnerable.”

So why is this consumer crime gaining popularity?

For one it’s easy to do. An identity crime can be as simple as someone intercepting your bank or credit card statement and using your personal information to make purchases over the phone, or on the Internet and then filing a change of address card with the post office to cover their tracks.

Students are also vulnerable to dumpster diving–a practice of retrieving documents that contain personal information, such as pre-approved credit card offers.

“It’s a less sophisticated way of getting information but it is just as effective,” Roberts said. “National surveys show that 48% of students keep personal information in their rooms, of that 39% reported being burglarized.”

Additionally, Roberts indicated that of the 49% of students who receive credit card applications and pre approved offers, only 30% destroy them before throwing them out.

Phishing, the latest high tech form of identity theft thrives on the manipulation of busy people. Hackers will often create elaborate e-mail messages using the logos and signature colors of well know companies such as eBay and Citibank.

Unsuspecting recipients respond to emails request for updated personal information and freely send off their personal information.

“We get so much junk mail we don’t think about it, but I’m asking you to think,” Roberts said. Legitimate companies usually never contact you first about a problem.”