Government promotes site to prevent students’ ID theft

Breanne Gilpatrick

A year after the WildCARD office decided to replace social security numbers with student, faculty and staff IDs, Morgan Rowe said she still uses her old card.

“I don’t ever feel like going to get a new one,” said Rowe, a Weinberg sophomore.

Rowe said she isn’t worried about identity theft — the use of someone else’s name, social security number or account information to commit fraud — because she doesn’t know anyone who has been a victim.

“I’m pretty careful where I put (my WildCARD),” she said.

In an attempt to increase student awareness about identity theft, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General is promoting a new Web site alerting students of the risk of identity theft.

The site, at www.ed.gov/misused, went online in September and tells students how identity theft occurs, how they can reduce their risk and what to do if it happens to them.

Students are especially vulnerable because they receive frequent credit card offers and often use their social security numbers as identification, according to the Web site.

The risk of student identity theft was behind Northwestern’s decision in fall of 2002 to remove social security numbers from WildCARDs. Any WildCARD issued after January 2003 has the new number.

The WildCARD office sent an e-mail to students, faculty and staff last Winter Quarter offering them the chance to receive new cards.

Art Monge, manager of WildCARD and vending, said he thinks about 80 percent of students have since gotten the new cards. He highly recommends students do so to eliminate the risk of identity theft.

“The opportunity is still open,” he said. “If someone walks in with an old card we will exchange it at no cost.”

Even though most students’ social security numbers are no longer on WildCARDs, they still are used for housing information and meal plans. Mark D’Arienzo, associate director of university housing, said the housing office is in the process of transitioning to the use of different identification numbers.

“We’re trying to get away from the use of social security numbers to use more unique identifiers because of the risk of identity theft,” D’Arienzo said.

But the university doesn’t keep track of the number of students reporting identity theft, according to University Registrar Suzanne Anderson.

She said the university tries to limit outside access to students’ personal information and follows the national Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which limits the information NU can release to the public.

Wendy Woodward, NU’s director of technology support services, said she thinks identity theft should be a concern for students. She advises that students be especially cautious when using the Internet.

“You wouldn’t give someone the keys to your dorm, so why would you give someone the keys to your e-mail account or the keys to your grades on CAESAR?” she said.