Risk of identity theft a problem at university level

Risk of identity theft a problem at university level

Kelly Burns
9/24/2007 – Media Credit: Courtesy Flickr.com
DANGER ZONE: There were 48 incidences of theft of personal identifying materials at UM last year, according to the university’s police department.

Every 79 seconds someone in the United States becomes a victim of identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Are students at the University of Miami aware they are at risk?

Identity theft is the process by which someone steals any personal information, then uses it illegally for his or her own puposes. Because the FTC has ranked Miami as No. 4 on a list of cities with the most identity theft nationally, the university urges students to keep personal information secure.

John P. Pepper, crime prevention coordinator, said identity theft can happen easily if someone’s name, Social Security number and date of birth are stolen.

“Even with an incorrect address these thieves can do massive damage,” Pepper said.

The two main types of identity theft are “account takeover,” which occurs when a thief acquires a person’s existing credit account information to make purchases, and “application fraud,” also known as “true name fraud.” The latter type of identity theft occurs when a thief uses a person’s SSN to open new accounts in that person’s name. The victim is usually unaware of the fraud for a long time because statements will be sent to the thief and not the victim.

UM Police Chief David Rivero said that although only four identity thefts occurred on campus last year, compared with 10 million nationally, there were still 48 incidences of theft of personal identifying materials, which can lead to identity theft.

“There is nothing worse than a student who just graduated and is seeking a job and has to explain why his or her credit is ruined,” Rivero said. “This doesn’t go over well at the job interview.”

With the increasing popularity of networking Web sites, thieves are using the Internet as a way to target unprepared college students.

“Any data that is transmitted electronically needs to have controls in place that uphold the confidentiality and integrity of the data,” said Stephen R. Weatherly, a network specialist at Certified Information Systems Security Professional. “Wireless is inherently less secure than a wired connection because it transmits to all in the vicinity of an access point, and anyone can listen in.”

Posting personal information such as phone numbers and addresses on Facebook or MySpace can easily be used to intercept mail and allow thieves to contact credit card companies.

“I think most people, not just students, have no idea of who has access to their private information,” Betsi Poti, a junior, said.

“Take, for example, how at most stores the cashier asks you for your telephone number before they process the transaction. You have the right to say ‘No’, but most people don’t want to make waves so they just give in.”

In order to educate students about identity theft, UMPD provides information and safety tips on the university’s Web site, distributes pamphlets yearly and hosts informational meetings for student organizations.

Some tips include carefully monitoring one’s credit card and bank statements, never giving out personal identifying information over the phone and never leaving personal items such as laptops or cell phones unattended.

“Most of it is just like common sense stuff,” Rita Zeidan, a freshman, said. “Don’t give out your SSN or throw away important documents, and watch where you put your wallet or purse.”

Rivero said that students need to be proactive about protecting themselves against stolen identity.

“We at UMPD can only do so much to educate our students on protecting their records and information, but the majority of the work must be done individually by each of us,” Rivero said.

Persons who find themselves victim to identity theft in the state of Florida may contact the Florida Attorney General Identity Theft Resource and Response Center at 1-850-414-3990.

Kelly Burns may be contacted at k.burns3@umiami.edu


-Shred credit card and bank statements that include personal information once it’s not needed
-Monitor charges made on your credit card
-Secure laptops with password protection
-Keep items such as cell phones and laptops on you at all times


-Leave Social Security numbers lying around
-Post personal information on networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook
-Give away personal info to unidentified sources
-Reveal personal information over the phone
-Store information such as credit, PIN or Social Security numbers on cell phones

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