Could the StagCard raise identity theft risk?
At Fairfield, your student ID is your life. You use it to get into dorms, to buy books at the bookstore, to print at the library, and to buy meals at the Stag.
But as useful as the StagCard is, it and other student IDs at universities around the country pose a serious danger: identity theft.
Many universities – including Fairfield – use social security numbers as the student ID number for most US residents that are registered with the university. These numbers are featured on the cards, posing a serious risk if they are lost or stolen.
“I think the university’s concern is the same as that shared by both individuals and institutions elsewhere,” said Dean Mark Reed. “Life has risks, and you try to minimize those. However, it is not a perfect world and mistakes or problems can occur.”
That’s exactly what happened at Boston College last spring when Douglas Boudreau, 22, of Warwick, R.I. was found guilty of identity fraud after installing keystroke software into more than 100 computers around the BC campus.
Using the software, Boudreau, a junior computer science major, was able to secretly monitor every keystroke entered on those computers. As a result he obtained the personal information of approximately 4,800 members of the BC community, including the Social Security numbers of 685.
Boudreau then used the information to steal over $2,000 in goods books using the computer information he gathered.
A similar incident occurred at the University of Texas last March when a 20-year-old UT student hacked into the school’s computer system and stole 55,000 social security numbers.
Sophomore Jenna LoGiudice believes that the use of Social Security numbers as student ID numbers can be problematic.
“I think it’s definitely an issue,” said LoGiudice. “When you’re growing up your parents always tell you not to give out your Social Security number, then you come to college and it’s everywhere.”
According to Steve Dailey, Academic Support Manager with Computer and Network Services, the university takes every precaution to prevent events like those that occurred at BC and UT from happening at Fairfield:
“The possibility of someone installing such software on a public machine definitely exists, however Computing and Network Services does intermittently check for illegally installed software or hardware,” he said.
“However, with close to 200 public lab machines in twelve different locations, we cannot guarantee that these lab machines have not had this type of software installed,” Dailey added. “We do try to limit what can be installed or changed on these public lab workstations, but nothing is full proof.”
Dean Reed added that the university takes additional precautions, including using passwords and permissions to access databases, and storing personal papers in locked offices or file cabinets. “The university complies with all the applicable federal or state laws,” said Reed.
Social Security numbers were first issued in 1936 for exclusive use within the Social Security system. However, in the 1960s they began to be used for student IDs and a variety of other purposes.
Within the past few years however, identity theft has become a growing problem, especially amongst the high risk target groups – students, the military and the elderly.
According to a study done in by the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization, approximately 700,000 people became victims of identity theft in 2002. ID fraud accounted for 32% of those thefts.
In accordance with the Privacy Act of 1974 “students can request that a different number be used for their university ID,” said Reed. These changes can be processed through the registrar’s office. Whatever the university ID number is, however, will be printed on the cards and could still be used to track down some personal information.
“It concerns me that people would try to steal peoples Social Security numbers,” said Alex Martinez ’06. “I wouldn’t mind having a different student number; I think it would be safer.”
Some universities around the country have already taken Social Security numbers off of IDs all together, including the University of New Hampshire, Harvard and MIT. Some states, including Texas, have mandated laws requiring that all schools remove the numbers from student IDs.
There are several other precautions students can take to ensure this doesn’t happen to them.
Dailey recommends only using your computer or the computer of someone you trust in specific cases to ensure that your personal information is not being tracked.
Both Reed and Dailey emphasized that it is most important to keep track of the ID itself.
“As far as identity theft, I would think it would be easier for a student to lose their ID where their Social Security number is right on the front,” said Dailey.
“The best way a student can protect his or her identity is not to worry about the number on the ID card, but rather to protect the card itself,” said Reed.
“Just yesterday, I watched two students enter the dining hall, throw their StagCards on a table then enter the serving area to get their food…I walked over to the table, picked up the cards, and without any knowledge of them, I had their personal information,” Reed added.
“It doesn’t excuse the theft, but it starts to point out the obvious.”