Dec 072006
 
Authors: TARYN CLARK

Studies show identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America, and students may be the likeliest targets of the crime.

Technology is increasing the likelihood that college students will fall victim to identity theft, said Steve Williams, a senior systems engineer for Cisco Systems.

“The big thing is that almost every single college student has a computer,” said Williams, who has a contract with CSU. “They are always online, using Facebook, MySpace and chatrooms, meaning they are constantly sharing information back and forth.”

One reason college students have become such popular targets of identity theft is because many students don’t realize they’ve been had until after college when they try to get a job.

“When was the last time a college student checked their credit report or their Social Security account?” he asked.

A considerable amount of damage could be done if a student’s identity was compromised, Williams said. The student could easily spend 10-15 years mending the credit wounds.

In the meantime, the victim would struggle to qualify for loans, possibly have utilities cut off, suffer a bad credit rating and possibly even face jail time for crimes committed under their identities.

Many identity thieves get vital information about their victims through file sharing, Williams said, which is popular among college students who like getting music without a price tag. Programs like LimeWire and Kazaa attract students, but these programs are also handy to identity predators.

“You can download a song from somebody and they can attach something to your song that will be stored on your computer,” he said. “They can record your every key stroke.”

Steven Lovaas, the network security manager for Academic and Computing Network Services at CSU, said the high incidence of college student identity theft is not due to a lack of technical knowledge.

“I think college students on average are better informed about computer security than society at large,” he said. “I think that a lot of students take technology for granted and don’t know what risk they’re taking sometimes when they share information with others online.”

“Use file-sharing software with care,” he added.

Bill Davis, the network security administrator for CSU, said students can be sure CSU does everything it can to protect students while they are using the network.

“Anywhere you enter into a connection with another computer on the Internet, what you should really be worried about is what is happening on the other end, not what is happening with CSU,” Davis said. “A way you can protect yourself is to be vigilant with who you are interacting with and make certain that you are interacting with the site that you think you are.”

According to Davis and Lovaas, CSU is constantly upgrading its defenses. By actively maintaining the security of the networks and servers by maintaining patches, firewalls and by prompting students to upgrade anti-spyware and anti-virus software, they say students are better protected.

The CSU network does all of this with a program called Clean Access.

“Cisco Clean Access does wonders for making the dorm network much safer,” Lovaas said. “It reduces a lot of network overhead from worms and other unwanted traffic. If I had to choose one technology that has been implemented in the last two years and that is the most beneficial, it has to be Clean Access.”

Another concern regarding identity theft is the safety of student and staff information stored on the CSU databases for administrative purposes. These files contain all the necessary information to steal one’s identity.

The University of Northern Colorado had a scare last year. A hard drive containing the information of 15,790 employees was reported missing, leaving many uncertain of their financial futures.

Such a large breach in file security at a neighboring university raises the question: What is the risk of something like this happening at CSU?

Davis says CSU is taking the proper measures to avoid such a scare.

“Every employee is required to sign a form, saying that their computer was scanned and is free of any personal information,” he said. “Such personal information is taken off of employee computers so that if they are stolen, student and staff information would be safe.”

Making purchases online is another risk. If people make purchases through a site that isn’t secure or valid, thieves can receive credit card numbers and, in turn, use them, creating a myriad of financial worries for the victim.

Ashley Richardson, a freshman speech communications major, says identity theft hits home.

“My mom had someone steal her credit card number online,” she said. “I don’t feel safe anymore when they ask me to fill in personal questions online, and my mom doesn’t shop online anymore.”

Williams offers some advice for students like Richardson about how to make safe purchases online.

“Make sure the Web sites you are buying from are valid,” he said. “You can look them up on the Better Business Bureau to see if they are registered.”

Williams and Davis agree that safe use of the Internet is the burden of the user, not so much the software.

“We can do our best to keep the CSU network updated, but beyond that is up to the student,” Davis said.

Staff writer Taryn Clark can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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Tips to Protect your Identity

* Never give your credit card number or other personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know whom you are dealing with. Personal information includes: social security number, driver’s license number, account number(s), date of birth, place of birth, home address, mother’s maiden name or passwords.

* When you order new checks, consider removing extra information such as your social security number, driver’s license number, middle name and telephone number.

* Check your credit history and bank records frequently. Look for signs of inaccurate or suspicious activity.

* Keep detailed and accurate records of your banking, check writing, credit card and ATM usage.

* Ensure that carbon copies of credit card receipts are destroyed.

* Shred or completely destroy any items with personal information or identifiers, such as address, date of birth, social security number, driver license or identification card number and account number(s), rather than discarding them in the trash.

* Do not carry extra credit cards, your social security card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet or purse, except when needed.

* Cancel your cellular phone account or long distance calling card if it has been stolen or you discover fraudulent charges in your bills.

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