Students should take precautions to prevent identity theft

Students should take precautions to prevent identity theft

Brie Handgraaf
7/30/2007 – Computers have become a crucial part of our generation. Most students spend hours each day checking e-mail, logging onto facebook, instant messaging friends, playing games as well as the occasional research project for school. Students need to learn how to protect themselves and their computers, otherwise they may pay the price.

Although social networking websites are a fun way to connect with friends and waste time, students are risking their identities. Anyone can collect information about you just by seeing what groups you join, and what pictures and personal information you post.

That information may be fun to share, but it can help hackers steal your identity. Identity fraud doesn’t just happen on your computer, either. Many students don’t even think twice about what they say in public on a cell phone conversation. Other risky moves include carelessly trashing financial information.


“I am always amazed at how many people just throw out their bills. It is so easy to go through someone’s trash and collect information through receipts, bills, etcetera,” said Charles Davis, the executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and associate professor in journalism studies at the University of Missouri. “I would really urge parents to buy shredders for their students because that will go a long way to cut down on identity theft.”

Harvard Townsend, chief information technology architect with information technology services at K-State, said he recommends being very cautious about giving out personal information like social security numbers. If a business, such as a bank, needs his social security number, he said he writes it out on a piece of paper, shows it to the employee and then takes the paper back to dispose of himself.

However, there is only so much students can do to protect their identities. K-State’s white pages on their website allow anyone to find out student’s addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses as well as their year and major in school.

There are many mixed opinions about this, especially since other universities, such as MU, do not have similar information available on their website.

“I believe that students should be able to selectively control their information,” Townsend said. “It is a trade-off though because it is actually very useful to have that information available.”

It is actually rather complicated to get your information removed from the white pages. Students wishing to do so have to fill out a form with the registrar’s office, but if they do, the university cannot release any information about the student, including the student’s status, even to prospective employers.

Davis said he believes the white pages are harmless compared to how much information is already out there.

“Plug your name into Google and see what happens. In a capitalist society, you have to reveal yourself to some extent to the community,” he said. “I find it funny that people worry if they are in the white pages but they are on Facebook. You have laid everything out for the entire world, your name and address doesn’t mean anything.”

He also said that 99 percent of identity theft is done by someone the person knows and public records are almost never used.

“They have to accept personal responsibility for the protection of themselves and their computer,” Townsend said. “As technology has proliferated, so have the variety, complexity and sophistication of threats, unfortunately.”

One of the newest ways of getting information and attacking computers is a technique called phishing.

“If you think of fishing in the traditional sense is putting bait out there trying to trick the fish into taking the bait and getting hooked. So phishing is similar in the sense that they are trying to trick you into giving something you don’t want to give. This can be anybody that tries to trick you into divulging something you wouldn’t normally divulge such as identity information like your social security number.”

A common phishing technique is sending out phony e-mails supposedly from businesses like banks or credit unions. Townsend said most banks will not contact members via e-mail but to check with the business before clicking on any suspicious links.

Students can also be risking their computers when they download files or programs from less than reputable sites. He said most reputable sites will screen downloads before making them available to the public. One high risk move most of our generation does regardless of its illegal status is the downloading of music and movies.

“You are downloading things from what amounts to illegal, underground or the black market and you never know what you are going to get,” he said. “You can get malicious payload added like spyware, viruses, worms, Trojan horses, that kind of stuff. It could allow your computer to be taken over remotely and turned into a spam server or set up a web server and post pornography or a file server to store pornography.”

If that happens to a computer connected to the campus network, the computer has to be completely reformatted before it can get back on the network. That costs time and money. Luckily, services like the Geek Squad at Best Buy or the Technology Service Center on campus that can help.

“Well over half of our repairs are cases of weather bug and that kind of thing,” Anthony Phillips, manager of the Technology Service Center, said. “Take the time to pay attention to that kind of stuff because it will go along way towards saving you time and money and putting me out of business.”

The TSC charges $55 an hour for labor but can usually reformat and restore computers within a day or two. Students find out more information at /cts/ tsc/pickups/index.html.

Computers are here to stay and keeping up with technology is crucial toward protecting yourself and your computer. For more information and tips, go to infotech/.

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