Nine numbers

Danielle Toth

New student IDs lessen identity-theft risk

Credit: Andrew popik

They use it for everything.

The Bursar’s Office. The Financial Aid Office. Even ResNet.

However, the university is looking to phase out the use of social security numbers as student ID numbers because of the increased risk of identity theft.

“Using the social security number has its benefits,” said Greg Seibert, director of security and compliance for Network Services. “It’s a number most people already know, it’s stable and most people have it. But the dangers outweigh the positives.”

Luckily, Kent State has not had any problems with identity theft for about three years, Seibert said.

About three years ago, the university used a Web site that students logged onto using their social security numbers. A University of Akron student used this Web site and the student directory to find the identities of about 25 to 30 students. The student was prosecuted, and no serious damage was done.

“We’re lucky we haven’t had a loss,” Seibert said. “It’s not because I’m a great security director, and it’s not because of our policies. No one is completely immune.”

However, to avoid identity theft problems, the university made a change earlier this semester to allow students to use only the last four digits of their social security numbers on exams and for university business, Seibert said.

“The first name, last name and last four digits gives a unique hit,” Seibert said. “The full social security number is better, but this is almost as successful.”

The main reason the university still uses social security numbers as student ID numbers is for financial aid records, said Roberta Sikula-Schwalm, university registrar.

The Student Financial Aid office is required by law to index paperwork by a student’s social security number, Seibert said.

Therefore, to make the change to a different student ID number, the university would need to create a system that could process both forms of identification, Sikula-Schwalm said.

However, the university would use a student ID number for all other records, and the social security number would just be a field that students would be required to fill in, like the field for date of birth, Seibert said.

Regardless of the university’s change, students should still be careful when providing their social security numbers to anyone.

“Question everyone,” Seibert said. “If you do not initiate contact with the business, do not give out or mail your number. No one does business that way. Regard everyone as suspect when providing ID information.”

If someone asks for information in public, students should ask if they can write the number down on a piece of paper and then ask for that paper back, Seibert said.

He also advises to never provide identity information in an e-mail. Always call the business or office back to provide information, he said.

Contact features reporter Danielle Toth at [email protected].