Identity thefts increase

The Federal Trade Commission reports 18- to 29-year-olds are common victims.

by Alan Butterworth

Phishing,” “dumpster-diving,” “skimming” and “shoulder urfing” are just a few of the ways students could lose their identities.

Identity theft – which many say is the nation’s fastest- growing crime – happens when someone takes another person’s personal information without his or her knowledge or permission and uses it for purposes unintended by that person.

University Student Legal Service has already dealt with three cases of identity theft this month. Carol Jacobsen, University Student Legal Service legal assistant, said she is concerned about this phenomenon’s growth.

“With the phishing and hacking, there’s a strong possibility that (identity theft) will increase,” she said.

Students at risk

In 2003, the Federal Trade Commission reported 18- to 29-year-olds made up the largest proportion of people reporting their identites stolen.

Jay Foley, Identity Theft Resource Center co-executive director, said he believes students might be more vulnerable because of a lack of experience in personal security.

“They’re out on their own for the first time in their lives,” he said.

“They see a T-shirt being offered for just filling out a credit card application, so they just fill it out,” he said.

“What they don’t realize is that the $4- to $5- T-shirt they’ve just acquired is just giving their personal info to a thief,” Foley said.

Jacobsen said she urges students to be vigilant about their financial information.

“The one thing students don’t do is watch their bank statement and credit card statement the way they should,” she said.

“Carefully scrutinizing the information during the month will save them the possibility of additional problems,” Jacobsen said.

Possible indications of identity theft include failing to receive bills or other mail, receiving credit cards for which one did not apply, denial of credit for no apparent reason and receiving phone calls from debt collection agencies about merchandise one did not purchase.

“If a wallet is taken, often times the contents of the wallet are split up among different group members, and significant damage can be done within just hours,” Jacobsen said.

The University Student Legal Service is also a valuable resource for those identity-theft victims.

“If anyone suspects identity theft or has been a victim – let our office know and we’ll get them in on an emergency basis,” Jacobsen said.


Phishing is one of the most recent scams. Phishing involves sending a fraudulent e-mail to a consumer from what appears to be a bank, credit company or merchant. The e-mail alerts the consumer to a possible problem with his or her account and instructs him or her to click on a link to a counterfeit Web site. The Web site then tricks the consumer into giving confidential information that identity thieves can use.

“Counterfeit Web sites look very legitimate,” Jacobsen said. She recently dealt with a student who gave his sensitive information to a false eBay Web site.

The student, who said he did not wish to be named, entered almost all of his personal information on the imitation Web site.

“After I did all this I felt kind of weird,” he said.

He suspected something was wrong, so he contacted eBay. They informed him of the fraud.

“I was totally shocked,” he said. “The first thing I did was call the credit card company to ask them to close my credit card account.”

He said he considers himself lucky.

“When I closed my credit card account I asked them if there were any transactions, and they told me that there was one very small amount – $1,” he said.

He is now more careful about giving out his financial details and personal information, he said.

“I pay attention to all my accounts and the mail I receive to see if there’s anything weird happening,” the student said.

When thieves phish, they often ask for more information than a normal account request, Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen said she advises students to never give out their information without first verifying – with a telephone call or otherwise – that the person requesting the information is legitimate. Information that should not be given out includes full name and address, account numbers or personal identification numbers, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name and any passwords.

Phone fraud

Identity theft can also take place over the telephone. Callers who claimed to be from the League of Women Voters told people they could register to vote over the phone and asked for their Social Security numbers.

“It’s certainly a terrible thing,” said Heidi Losinski, director of development and communication for the Minnesota branch of the League of Women Voters.

“It’s a crime when people pose as the (League of Women Voters), and the (league) is in no way party to this,” she said.

University Deputy Police Chief for the University Police Department Steve Johnson said if someone calls to look for personal information, it is a warning sign.

“Don’t give out your information unless you’re certain that it’s a legitimate business or activity,” Johnson said.

Jacobsen said his advice for students who are unsure of the legitimacy of a phone call is to get the caller’s name and number, and hang up. Then they should call that number back.

“If they don’t give their number, it’s not legitimate,” Jacobsen said. “If you can’t reach them, it’s not legitimate.”