You Think its You but it Might Not Be
September 16, 2004 8:49 PM
Given the nationwide increase in cases of identity theft, some SF State students are concerned that their personal information is not prudently safeguarded on or off campus. A student's social security number is directly linked to everything from employment and credit history to bank and academic records. So students wonder why SF State does not implement a safer method of identification, other than by social security numbers.
Cinema senior Nile Dunn has experienced stolen identity. A thief established a corporation in Dunn's name and opened an American Express Corporate card using Dunn’s social security number. It was not until American Express’s collection department called him looking for an immediate payment that Dunn realized the fraudulent activity.
“I was shocked, “ said Dunn. “American Express told me that I had to write letters to all three major credit bureaus letting them know that I did not opened that account. Once I did that, American Express opened their own investigation. It took a whole year before the mess was cleared up. It was a real hassle because I couldn't get a credit card issued to me during that entire time and I really needed one.”
Dunn noted that since this experience, he does not to use his name and social security number together when ordering over the telephone or Internet. He also suggested that students request a copy of their credit report, which costs $3, at least once a year.
Kim Quinteros, a liberal arts junior was amazed when she transferred from San Francisco City College to find that SF State compels students to use their social security numbers as identification around campus.
“In 2004, I would expect State to be more technologically advanced than City,” she said. “At City College, students are issued a random set of numbers to use as identification to alleviate the possibility of fraudulent use of social security numbers.”
It is a long tradition of some SF State professors to post, outside of their offices, semester grades next to each student's social security number. They also have a tendency to haphazardly pass around attendance rosters with students' names and social security numbers for students to check their own attendance for the day.
Although Jennifer Schwartz, senior sergeant of SF State Police Department, said that there have been no cases of identity theft filed at SF State, the open display of social security numbers is a severe violation of student privacy.
“We are advised not to carry our social security cards in our wallets, yet professors have our social security numbers floating around everywhere,” Quinteros continues. “What's up with that?”
“I have to use Blackboard for certain classes,” said Nancy Lee, a TESOL graduate student. “It isn't very secure when we type in our social security number because the actual numbers pop up, as opposed to asterisks.”
This could mean bad news if someone with malicious intent was looking over her shoulder. But the SF State community can breathe a sigh of relief because change is on the horizon.
Suzanne Dmytrenko, SF State registrar, recently met with campus officials to announce a 12-month plan to convert the current system of using social security numbers as identification, to one that uses a 9-digit numerical university I.D. (UNI).
“We're getting everyone together to tell them that this is a priority,” said Dmytrenko. “Over the next year we will work with each department to expunge their current system, and upgrade them to the new one.”
Additionally, Dmytrenko said that the campus One Card will have the new UNI encoded on the back on the black strip. If a student forgets the assigned UNI, she or he will be able to retrieve the number from a secure SF State web page. This, she said, should put students minds at ease, as the threat of identity theft will be greatly diminished.
But identity theft can also occur while a student is traveling through the information superhighway.
As 21st century consumers, many SF State students make a large portion of their purchases via electronic commerce (e-commerce). And unless their computer is installed with firewall software to keep hackers from spying while they are on-line, students are vulnerable. An Internet thief can steal credit card numbers, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, medical records etc.
For this reason, it is paramount that students make sure that every Web site they purchase from uses encryption technology. This will scramble the data they send over the Internet, and thwart hackers from gaining access to their personal history.
“As far as e-commerce, you should be conservative about what information you give out because it's not that difficult for hackers to get personal and private information,” said creative writing senior Joseph Parese. “Be conscientious of your surroundings, and treat the Internet like it's real life.”
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