New web site fights identity theft

More than 10 million cases of theft were reported in America last year

Scroll down for Tips on preventing identity theft.

Early last month, the Department of Education unveiled a Web site aimed at educating students about identity theft, a crime that Secretary of Education Rod Paige said affected 10 million Americans last year.

Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses another person's personal information without permission. Under someone else's name, criminals can activate credit cards, buy cell phone plans or even give the false name when being arrested.

"Most students are well-informed about the basic rules for protecting their physical well-being and possessions - rules like walking in well-lit areas, traveling in groups and locking their doors and windows," Paige said in a speech at Howard University last month. "But too many students don't know the basics of protecting their identity."

Katherine Kirschner, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said her knowledge of identity theft came from television commercials.

"I think they're funny, but I don't know that much about it," she said.

The Web site can be found at www.ed.gov/misused. There is also information on the Federal Trade Commission Web site, www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

Jim Bradshaw, spokesman for the Department of Education, said, "We launched [the Web site] to help raise awareness of the dangers of identity theft, especially to college students, who we believe are more susceptible to ... having their personal information stolen."

While identity theft does not target a particular group, students should be particularly aware of it, said John Picarelli, a research lecturer at AU's Transnational Crime and Corruption Center.

"Students are at that point where they are starting to build their credit history," Picarelli said. "They're getting bombarded with credit offers and also going through the student loan process."

Students are vulnerable to identity theft when they receive pre-approved credit card offers with their Social Security number already printed on it.

Vikas Chopra, a sophomore in CAS, said that while he knew not to give his Social Security number out over the phone or on insecure Web sites, "I didn't even know that ... I just throw [my credit offers] away."

The consequences of being an identity theft victim are serious.

"Victims of identity theft can spend months or even years clearing the damage caused to their reputations and credit records," Paige said. "During the time it takes them to resolve these issues, they can possibly miss out on job opportunities and be refused student loans, a mortgage or car loans."

Picarelli said that students can work to prevent identity theft by safeguarding their Social Security numbers.

"And check your credit rating every year," he said. "Even if you don't think you have one, you do."

Currently it costs about $30 to receive your credit report from all three of the credit bureaus. However, a new law signed by President Bush last month will allow one free credit report each year, starting in 2005.

Tips for preventing identity theft

Memorize your Social Security number and passwords. Don't record your password on papers you carry with you.

Do not use your date of birth as your password.

Shred pre-approved credit applications and other financial documents before discarding them.

Order credit reports every year from each of the major credit reporting agencies and thoroughly review them for accuracy.

Never give personal or financial information over the phone or Internet unless you initiated the contact.

Do not carry your Social Security card or birth certificate with you.

Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately. Check your monthly credit card and bank statements for unusual activity.

Use a firewall program on your computer, especially if you leave your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day.

Do not download files sent to you by strangers or click on hyperlinks from people you don't know.

-Source: Department of Education

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