September 17, 2007

Students at Risk For Identity Theft

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If you are between the ages of 18 and 25 the Federal Trade Commission estimates your chances of identity theft to be as high as one in three. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, and it’s hitting college campuses around the country.
According to the Department of Justice, identity theft and identity fraud refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. Victims of identity theft can then be charged with criminal offenses like DUIs and bench warrants, medical bills, fraudulent cell phone bills and credit card bills.
Justin Yurek, president of I.D. Watchdog, an identity theft advocacy company that provides detection, protection and resolution for identity theft, explains that in order for an individual to take precautionary measures, he or she must first understand exactly what their identity is.
“Your identity is made up of 5 parts: your name, address, date of birth, social security number and telephone number,” Yurek said. “This includes information existing in banking, medical, criminal, loan, employment and housing databases, etc.”
Demographics do not play a dominant role in determining potential victims of identity theft among the general population.
“Nobody’s immune … rich or poor, black or white, Asian or Hispanic, males or females — it’s spread very evenly. Everybody can get hit,” he said.
Bonnie Morrow from the M&T Bank branch located in Willard Straight Hall discussed the prevalence of identity theft, relating it to cases occurring at Cornell.
“At least once every three months we deal with cases of identity fraud. We find that the affected students are generally freshmen or sophomores,” she explained.
As Yurek stated, identity thieves are often members of identity rings and/or drug gangs. Often the identities they steal are used to obtain drugs and other illegal substances. In other cases these criminals are illegal immigrants in need of a citizen’s identity for employment purposes.
Despite the frequency of these crimes, most thieves escape under the radar with their newly stolen identities. In fact, only one in 700 criminals is convicted and prosecuted.
According to I.D. Watchdog, the most common method of identity theft is data breach, in which an individual hacks into a computer system and steals others’ personal information. In fact, The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their data breached and their identities stolen each year. A percentage of this data is stolen from university databases around the country.