Feature Article
Mark Pribish
Students and ID Theft: How to Protect Their Personal Information
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

As the end of August brings us closer to Labor Day - which is a national holiday in honor of working people - I began to think about the beginning of the school year for my two daughters.

I then thought how the end of August and beginning of September can also mean many things to many people. For example, to some people it is the end of summer and beginning of fall; while to others it means the start of the high school, college and professional football seasons; and still to others it can mean the beginning of the fall flu season, a new TV/cable program season and/or the colorful fall foliage.

However, I could not stop thinking about the beginning of the school year and the millions of students in the United States whose Social Security Numbers (SSN) are being used, transmitted, and stored at elementary, middle and high schools along with colleges and universities all over the country.

According to the February 2009 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Report (see http://www.ftc.gov/sentinel/reports/sentinel-annual-reports/sentinel-cy2008.pdf) for more information),the single largest demographic of ID theft victims in 2008 were individuals between the ages of 20-29 years old - which accounted for 24 percent of all ID Theft victims. In addition, another seven percent of ID Theft victims in 2008 were 19 years old or younger.

This means that 31 percent of all ID Theft victims tracked by the FTC last year were in the age range of most students.

In another study from November 2008 which was authored by Joseph E. Campana of J. Campana & Associates (an identity theft and information security consulting firm), it was determined that Education-related organizations account for nearly one-third, 31%, of all data breach incidents reported in the U.S. and more than 12.4 million student and consumer profiles have been compromised in 324 separate education related breach incidents.

Based on the above, parents and students need to clearly understand the school registration process (regardless of age and school year) - because a student's social security number, if not properly safeguarded can put children of any age at risk of identity theft.

That said, parents and students need to be proactive in protecting personal information - whether your middle school student just received his or her first cell phone; your high school student has joined a social networking group like Facebook or Twitter; or your college student is leaving home to live in the college dorm.

Below is a list of suggestions I've created to assist you in keeping your families identities secured during the back-to-school season:

  • Students should limit access to their cell phones, laptops, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), and flash drives.
  • Students should secure their cell phones, laptops, PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), and flash drives with smart passwords.
  • Students should be careful about being tricked into giving up personal information in phishing scams ranging from fraudulent websites to entering contests - where identity thieves steal personal information.
  • Students should be careful when joining social networking sites as to not divulge sensitive information - where personal safety as well as personal information is at risk - especially younger children who are not educated on how to keep their information private.
  • Students - especially first year college students - should not carry their SSN in their wallet or purse and should be very careful in providing their SSN relating to campus credit card applications and marketing companies (including free samples and contests) who ask for information like phone numbers, addresses, account numbers, birth dates, and/or SSNs.
  • Students need to be constantly aware of e-mail scams and should verify all web addresses.
  • Parents should check the credit report of younger children every year. College age students should check their credit report each year. Both can be done at no cost by going to www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling each of the three credit bureaus.
  • Parents need to ask the school what information is absolutely required versus providing all information that has been requested?
  • Parents should ask about the information security and governance policies of the school including whether employees who have access to sensitive student information are professionally background screened?
  • Parents and college students should ask if the teacher/professor has access to student social security numbers and if so, how is this information being used and safeguarded.

The most important advice you can give your children on being careful with their personal information - especially college students leaving home for the first time - is that no company or entity can ever prevent your child from becoming a victim of ID Theft - and that being responsible with their personal information is as important as being responsible with their money.

To read my past newsletters and for additional information on how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft please visit the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.


Scam Central

"Craigslist Warning"

For online shoppers and sellers alike, Craigslist has long been a popular internet portal. However, just like last months rental property scam, Craigslist has become a target of thieves looking for a quick buck via phony Bed and Breakfast advertisements.

How it Works:

Clever criminals are finding attractive realty sites, posting the images online and working up a vague advertisement in hopes to lure you into booking a night at the cozy property. The problem is, these individuals do not own the property, nor is the property even a Bed and Breakfast in many cases. It may not even be anywhere near the advertised location. Online shoppers looking for a weekend at a pleasant getaway are tricked into booking a night and paying for it in advance. The criminals simply take the money and then take down the ad, well before the buyer realizes they have been duped.

Your Defense:

Before you book a night in paradise for a place listed on Craigslist, do your due diligence. Verify the property in question exists, especially if it is for a property in a foreign country. All Bed and Breakfast establishments in the United States are required to have a business license to operate, although state laws may vary. Check with the local Better Business Bureau for the property in question to verify the business is properly licensed and has no complaints. Be sure you always pay for your online purchases with credit cards as fraudulent credit card charges can be disputed and reversed.

For more information on this scam, click below to read more: