Is Your Student A Target for Identity Theft?

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College students and younger children remain some of the top targets for identity thieves.

It’s school time again — the season for registration forms and loan applications. If your child’s a recent grad, they may soon be off to college or moving across country to start a new job. In any scenario, it’s a cold, hard fact that children and young adults are prime targets for identity theft.

 

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

 

The Federal Trade Commission and law enforcement groups compile statistics on identity theft annually. In 2014, the latest Consumer Sentinel Network report1 indicated that 24% of all identity theft victims were under the age of 30.

In 2011, Carnegie Mellon’s CyLabs2 conducted the first definitive report on child identity theft and the results were staggering. The authors discovered that kids were 50 times more likely than their parents to become identity theft victims. Case studies in the report documented numerous mortgage foreclosures linked to kids’ names.

“A child’s identity is a blank slate, and the probability of discovery is low, as the child will not be using it for a long period of time. The primary drivers for such attacks are illegal immigration (e.g., to obtain false IDs for employment), organized crime (e.g., to engage in financial fraud) and friends and family (e.g., to circumvent bad credit ratings, etc.),” the study’s authors warned.

 

STUDENT RECORDS ARE A TROVE OF DATA

 

High school and college records are a data gold mine for hackers since they contain everything from SSNs to health insurance information. Most of these individuals have no credit report or have one that’s spotless, making their identities highly desirable for hackers. Shockingly, that data’s often not well-guarded.

College and university data protection efforts often fall short and many have dismal track records.  Topping the list is the University of North Carolina (UNC) system, which has experienced at least a dozen data breaches since 2007. In 2014, the Wilmington UNC campus breach exposed SSNs for individuals who’d taken foreign language placement tests between 2002 and 2006. Why SSNs were needed for testing and why such outdated records were still being retained was never explained.

 

IDENTITY THEFT WARNINGS ARE HARD TO DELIVER

 

In February 2014, hackers ransacked a database at the University of Maryland (UMD). Everyone from the Chancellor on down lost key personal data including Social Security numbers (SSN). While UMD did an admirable job of notifying nearly 300,000 students swept up in the breach, they faced huge challenges because many victims had left campus.

“No university has contact info for everybody. Neither did we. We had a way to reach about half of them directly,” Brian Ullmann, assistant VP for Marketing and Communications told the media. “We used social media and traditional media to get the word out initially but the only perfect way is to get letters out.”

In order to send letters to the appropriate parties, current addresses are needed. Ullmann’s candid remarks point out a key problem students and young adults face. They frequently move and forwarding address records become outdated fast. In this case, the stolen data spanned a 16-year period and contacting students from 1998 presented obvious challenges. After a breach, it’s hard to be sure students can ever be reached.

 

DETECTION IS TOUGH

 

Your 8-year-old son has no plans to buy a condo soon. Your 17-year-old daughter has no need for a small business loan. Yet, if hackers get their hands on that child’s SSN, there will be few warning signs of identity theft since parents typically don’t check their children’s credit files. It’s very possible hackers will use that identity to obtain loans in your child’s name or synthesize an identity with your child’s SSN and another name.

Often, an early indicator your child’s identity has been stolen appears in the form of a rejection when it’s time to apply for college loans, seek a job or apply for a credit card. Keep tabs on credit report beforehand so your child isn’t blindsided by a tarnished credit file.

For younger kids, it’s even harder to uncover fraud because parents rarely think to check a 12-year-old’s credit file. Sometimes, the first clue is a phone call from someone trying to collect a debt. That debt might be many years old and long past the statute of limitations, but collectors will try to scare you into paying. Instead, check credit reports for all your kids; the findings may shock you.

 

SELF HELP STARTS EARLY

 

For younger children, job applications and school registration files can create an opportunity for data theft. For those over 16 years old, data could be stolen from a work-study or college application.

The Identity Theft Resource Group (ITRG) is a California non-profit that has worked to combat identity theft for decades. ITRG published a list of items to tell your kids before you leave them on campus for the first time. It includes buying a shredder and renting a mini-safe to store passport, Social Security card and spare credit cards.

The only comprehensive way to protect a young, vulnerable identity is a sound identity protection service from ID Watchdog. We can monitor their personal data and detect misuse early when it’s easiest to correct. Then we’ll help reverse the damages with a 100% resolution guarantee. During this season of student accomplishments and celebration, it also makes a great gift idea that delivers peace of mind all year long.

 

If one of your children has been a victim of identity theft, we’d like to hear your story. Email details to editor@idwatchdog.com.

 

Footnotes:

  1. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/consumer-sentinel-network-data-book-january-december-2014/sentinel-cy2014-1.pdf, page 14.
  2. https://www.cylab.cmu.edu/files/pdfs/reports/2011/child-identity-theft.pdf
  3. http://www.idtheftcenter.org/Solutions/sn-26.html

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