January 7th, 2006 10:56 EST
That is Not Me: Identity Theft
Recently the U.S. Department of Education said college students are particularly vulnerable to identity theft. "Almost half of all college students receive credit card applications on a weekly basis, if not daily basis. Many of these students discard the card applications without destroying them." Nearly a third of students rarely, if ever, reconcile their credit card and checking account information and balances.
Entrusted with sensitive information, creditors carelessly hand out credit cards and offer personal information to other credit card companies for profit. Although it first emerged as a crime in the early 1990s, identity theft has now become the most widely reported consumer crime. An identity thief with purloined credit card applications and social security numbers is off and charging. In addition, if the student does not check his or her credit card and bank statements s/he may never know until the dunning phone calls begin - that his or her identity has been lifted.
Having grown up with the Internet, college students can often be casual and lackadaisical about personal financial information stored on their PC`s as well as conducting careless business transactions online. Almost 50% of students have had grades posted by their social security number. This is another gateway that techno thieves have of obtaining enough data to construct a phony identity.
Typically, the thieves will max out credit cards obtained under the unfortunate victim`s name in addition to using the new identity to apply for jobs and loans, including federal education loans.
Generally, the victim is not liable for the loss. However until the identity theft is sorted out, which can take years, the victim`s credit rating is ruined, making it tough for young people starting out to get a job, rent an apartment, or obtain a car loan.
Identity theft came into it`s own in the dot-com age. It has been a Federal crime since 1998, and the Government reports that 9.9 million consumers in the United States are stung for around $5 billion annually.
The crime has proven tough to prosecute, because offenders are so elusive, victims are too inconvenienced to pursue punishment, and violent crime takes precedence in many police departments. A spring survey by Gartner Research found that thieves have just a 1-in-700 chance of being caught.
The spike in identity crimes has prompted a push for new laws to force the credit industry to boost protections, crack down on identity thieves, and ease victims` efforts to restore their credit and credibility and convicted thugs now face more jail time and fatter fines, especially if the victim is elderly or infirm.
"Identity theft is an epidemic," said Mari Frank, a Southern California attorney and identity theft victim who has written numerous books on the offense. "It`s a very easy and lucrative crime, and the financial industry facilitates it. Your information is bought and sold and shared and transferred all over the place all the time. Credit is issued like free candy at Halloween." College students need to be very cautious of falling victim to identity theft. After all, college is a way of shaping one`s identity and it would be a dishonor to have it stolen after all of that hard work.
If you feel that you have fallen victim to an identity thief, the following tips could save you some headache and money.10 tips to prevent identity theft If you become a victim of identity theft, file a police report in the community where the theft took place.
Insist that credit-card companies send you copies of application and credit slips and the paperwork that links your name to the identity thief. Talk to the credit-card company`s fraud investigator, not a customer-service representative.
Contact by telephone and letter - all credit-reporting agencies that your thief might target, including department stores, utilities and credit-card issuers.
Carefully monitor your mail and credit card bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity and follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit-card bill could mean an identity thief has commandeered your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
Ask creditors to put a "fraud alert" on your account and add a "victim`s statement" to your file requesting creditors to contact you before opening new accounts in your name and get credit cards and business cards with your photo on them.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by contacting the FTC`s Identity Theft Hot line at 877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); online at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/; or by mail at Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20580.
To prevent identity theft, regularly check your credit record. Many victims do not learn for months or even years that they have been victimized until they are denied credit or employment, are threatened by collection companies or arrested for a crime they did not commit.
Order your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year and make sure all the information is correct. The bureaus are: Equifax 800-525-6285; Experian 888-397-3742; and TransUnion 800-680-7289.
Have your name removed from marketing lists so you do not receive pre-approved offers of credit that thugs could steal. Buy a paper shredder to destroy unwanted mail and old statements and bills...anything with your name on it.
Carry minimal personal information. Do not give out personal information such as your Social Security or driver`s license numbers unless required by law and do not share personal information online. Change your computer passwords often.
All information obtained from the U.S. Department of Education 2003