Because many universities are in the habit of using personal information to identify students, officials in the Florida Attorney General’s office say those students are at a high risk of having their identities stolen.
“Because sometimes people sit on the information for years, after a while with no problems with their credit, students stop checking their credit reports thinking everything is fine,” said Thomas Sadaka, special council for computer crimes and identity theft in the Attorney General’s victim’s services division. “And everything turns out not to be fine.”
Sadaka said students at FAMU are at a greater risk for having their identities stolen because of what they use as a form of student identification.
“For those who still use their social security numbers as student identity, it’s even worse,” he said.
According to Sadaka, students are more prone to being too trusting with their personal information.
“The information is usually laying about,” he said. “Any time information is compromised – losing a wallet and having it fall into the wrong hands – you’re at risk.”
A thief will use the information on such things as credit cards and retail charge accounts, which have paper trails that can be altered to keep authorities off the criminal’s tail.
Sadaka said the average bank robber gets away with $3,500. When caught, he or she faces an average of 13 years in prison for the robbery. An identity thief averages $20,000 on an identity. When caught – Sadaka said it’s rare for someone who steals an identity to get caught – a 3-year prison sentence is about it.
“It’s a very valuable game,” he said. “And the risk of capture is less than nothing.”
It takes an average of 13 months after the crime was committed for big purchases and credit inquiries will begin to surface on a person’s credit report, Sadaka said.
Certain measures have been initiated to cut down on fraud. Charlie Crist, attorney general, initiated the “No Scam” line shortly after he was elected in November.
Since its inception in January, the line has received 11,000 complaints, with 400 calls on identity theft. Sadaka would like to see the number of calls fall because of other initiatives being put to action by the state.
“A lot of information we give out is more of a panacea than anything else,” he said.
Sadaka suggests keeping the number of items with personal information to a minimum. He said buying items over the Internet should only be done through services that provide safe features and only ask for enough information to make the transaction.
“Be careful of how you reply to things and what information you give,” he said.
Though they serve to make many things more convenient, Sadaka suggests to avoid using debit cards the same way a credit card would be used.
“Be extremely cautious with debit cards,” he said. “The $50 fraud limits are only being raised by companies because it’s within their jurisdiction to do so. The rest you may end up having to pay.”
Besides checking credit reports twice a year, Sadaka said to keep a close eye on anything coming through the mail that could get into the hands of others.
“These are common sense suggestions,” he said. “Any time your information is available… it’s fair game.”
Marlon A. Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.