College students most at risk for identity theft

AMHERST, Mass. (U-WIRE) – A research group has concluded that college-aged individuals of today’s tech-savvy generation don’t use their talents to protect against identity theft.

In a recent study conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research – an organization that carries out research for financial institutions – those between the ages of 18 and 24 are most at risk to have their personal information stolen and financial status placed in limbo.

According to the study, 5.3 percent of young adults reported being victims compared to the national average of 3.7 percent. The report states, “victims in this age group are less likely to the utilize the most basic precautions, such as shredding documents, turning off paper bills and financial statements, or using antivirus, anti-spyware software or firewalls.”

High technology tools are useless when dealing with the most primitive forms of thievery, according to the report. Failure to shred statements and properly deal with pre-approved credit card solicitations are among the easiest ways for a dumpster-diving ID thief to rip off a student.

“Using everyday items such as your driver’s license or Social Security number to assume your identity, a skilled thief can open new bank accounts and write bad checks, get cash advances and obtain personal or car loans,” VISA states on their Web site. The site also suggests protecting PIN and ATM receipts.

University of Massachusetts Deputy Police Chief Patrick Archbald says that he has an experienced staff of computer crime officers that are often called to help other local departments.

“I certainly agree that this generation is more tech-savvy than those that preceded them,” Archbald said. “But the fact remains that at this age young people are more trusting of others, and they also can be more careless with their personal information.

Garbage cans and dumpsters on campus, including some located near the ATMs in the Southwest Residential Area, are often packed with un-torn bank statements.

“Not a week goes by that we don’t hear about someone who is calling students with some story about completing a ‘survey’ or ‘inquiry’ by phone or e-mail, and the student/victim has given up all their personal data over to a complete stranger that we can never identify,” he said.

However, once the basic precautions are made, college students in particular have another threat to deal with. According to a Los Angeles Times article from Dec. 12, 2006, a major security breach at the University of California Los Angeles led to the compromising of more than 800,000 names, addresses, and social security numbers.

EDUCAUSE, a non-profit organization focused on promoting security in information technologies of higher education, issued a newsletter which explained that universities are constantly under attack by hackers trying to gain access to thousands of files containing the personal information of students and alumni. Chief Information Officer at George Mason University Joy R. Hughes and Jack Suess, Vice President of Information Technologies at the University of Maryland, reveal in a newsletter that the most frequently attacked and most vulnerable areas of campus cyber security are the meal plan, housing and campus police servers.

David J. Gray, Vice President for Information Technology, CIO and Chief Executive Officer of UMassOnline states, “More remains to be done on the security and identity management fronts, but I think the University and its constituent campuses have paid appropriate attention and devoted appropriate resources to this important area.

“It is reasonable to point out that the information infrastructure of both the UMass campuses and the central systems operated by University Information Technology Services have not, to date, been the object of significant security breaches,” Gray said. “We know that we may not rely upon good fortune as a security buffer or identity protector in the future and are taking measured and proactive steps to present our students, faculty and staff with a secure information environment in which to conduct their business with the University.”