Rachel Young has never been to Fresno, Calif., but her identity has.
The sophomore philosophy major became a victim of identity theft this summer and has been dealing with the consequences of someone else’s actions since she found out that a man named Jos/ stole her Social Security number.
Over 9.9 million people in the United States have been victims of identity theft in the last year, according to a study released in August by the Federal Trade Commission. The victims lost an estimated $5 billion and 297 million hours of time trying to work out the problems caused by their stolen identities. Financial institutions are also victims of identity theft and lost approximately $48 billion to the problem last year.
Young found someone had stolen her Social Security number when she called to set up a cable connection for her new apartment and gave her Social Security number to arrange an installation appointment. The salesperson then informed her that an illegal alien named Jos/ was using her identity for a cable account in Fresno.
“I don’t know if he purposely stole it or if he just picked the number, I just don’t know how he got it,” Young said.
Judy McKenna, family economics specialist for CSU’s Cooperative Extension, agrees it is hard to know exactly how people go about accessing other people’s personal information.
“Their job is to find the most convincing ways to take your money,” McKenna said. “Apparently the way a lot of people get identities is to get a name and then figure out which day is trash day. Then, they go by and steal it and can have access to bank statements, your Social Security Number and anything that is not shredded.”
Despite the threat of becoming a victim of identity theft, Julie Bennett, a sophomore apparel and merchandising major, is not worried about the consequences of being careless with her personal material.
“I don’t worry much about identity theft,” Bennett said. “It shocks me, but I still don’t think I’ll do anything to protect myself. It is just one of those things that I just don’t think will happen to me.”
Tony Duda, a junior sociology major, agrees that he does not take many precautions towards protecting his identity.
“I’m real aware when using computers on campus who is looking over my shoulder, but that’s about it,” Duda said. “I don’t really fear it too much, I just know that nowadays the Internet is like a window into people’s lives.”
Students may not feel that they are at as much risk as people with established jobs and a stable source of income, but McKenna believes that it is still important to take precautions against identity theft.
To avoid identity theft, it is suggested that people cross-cut shred personal information before disposing of it and do not carry purses or wallets in easily assessable places and do not carry a checkbook.
“It’s tough to catch the thieves,” McKenna said. “It is better to avoid them than to hope that they get caught later on.”
Young’s experience with identity theft has shown her that it not only can be difficult to catch the thief, but it can also be hard to find someone who will help.
“They give you a whole list of things you have to have before you can get a credit report. There are three different companies with three different records and only one has sent me the information I needed,” Young said. “The police didn’t even want to file a report. I spent five hours on the phone the first day, but I got so fed up with it all that I made my mom do it. They know his first and last name and his address and they won’t prosecute him.”
Rex Steele, a detective for the Fort Collins Police Services’ Fraud and Forgery Department, said that identity fraud is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and that it is important to be cautious regardless of age.
“Anybody would have the potential to be a victim,” Steele said. “If you protect your personal information you are at less risk.”