College students vulnerable to identity theft

Mar. 26, 2012 12:11 pm

A young man went to CVS to buy a carton of cigarettes and, like many customers, swiped his card to make the purchase.

Ellen Griffith, the cashier, saw her customer covering the picture on the debit card

According to the police report, when he was asked to show his ID along with the card, it did not belong to him.

Debit card and credit card fraud has become the most common form of identity theft. In 2010, over eight million people were victims of identity theft, resulting in a loss of $37 billion, said Mallory Schmidt, communication and public relations specialist of Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina.

How does it happen?

“Eighty-nine percent of identity thefts are through stolen bank statements, credit cards and wallets… basically anything they can get their hands on,” Schmidt said. “Victims often have to spend countless hours trying to repair all of the damage the thieves have done or are still doing.”

One Carrboro resident fell victim to fraud when various collection agencies called him about his online loans.

“When he got a copy of his credit report, he found several accounts that he did not open or apply for,” the police report stated. One loan company, Think Cash, demanded $1,500.

According to Justice Department figures released last November, in about 8.6 million households at least one person12 or older experienced some kind of identity theft in 2010. That’s up from 6.4 million households in 2005.

“The majority of identity theft and financial transactions is perpetrated by strangers,” said Lt. Anthony Westbrook of the criminal investigations division.

Although identity thefts incidents reported to the Carrboro police department decreased from 38 incidents in 2009 to 26 in 2011, personal information is increasingly stolen electronically.

College students are prime targets for identity theft, said Juliann Tenney, who administers the Identity Theft Prevention Program (ITPP) at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“A university campus is a very open environment, and losing portable devices that contain sensitive information presents the greatest vulnerability,” she said. “Everyone should take care to use strong passwords and not to carry sensitive information on portable devices.”

Mobile devices present a new avenue for identity theft. According to a survey by Confident Technologies in San Diego, many users have sensitive personal information on their mobile devices.

  • 50% of people use banking, financial or stock trading apps on their mobile devices.
  • 96% have e-mail applications running.
  • 35% have applications connected to online shopping or auction accounts.
  • More than half do not take the simple step of locking their mobile device.

SOURCE: Confident Technologies, San Diego, CA.

How to prevent it

The University adopted the ITPP program in 2009, which aims to detect, prevent and reduce identity theft related to credit-type accounts and sensitive information such as Social Security numbers.

According to Javelin Strategy & Research, younger Americans are less likely to track the activity in their bank accounts and credit cards regularly and use identity theft monitoring services.

To combat identity fraud, Tenney, Carrboro police and the Better Business Bureau advised students and residents to shred any statements that contain their personal information and place a fraud alert on their credit reports.

“If you place a report, basically the identity theft cannot open more accounts under your name, and the Federal Trade Commission will track down identity thieves and work to stop them,” Schmidt said.

Westbrook also encouraged residents and students to check their credit reports ever year. TransUnion, Equifax and Experian are free major credit reporting companies that provide a free report once every four months.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also hosts identity theft prevention and an education event, “Secure Your ID” Day, and local shredding events twice a year.

“Identity theft can wreak havoc for American consumers and businesses, and it’s a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon,” says Beverly Baskin, president and CEO of BBB serving Eastern North Carolina.

“Through our event, we hope to educate Triangle residents on this issue and arm them with the necessary resources to protect themselves.”

This article was reported for the JOMC 253 Reporting class at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.