Identity theft ‘fastest growing white collar crime’ says FBI

Posted 8:24 p.m. Jan. 22

By Shaphan Marwah

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Criminals are using student identification cards to steal identities and rack up large bills, but some students say they are unaware of the problem.

Federal government reports estimate that there were between 500,000 and 700,000 incidents of identity theft nationwide in 2000, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation calls it the “fastest growing white collar crime.”

Most universities use Social Security numbers as student identification numbers, leaving students vulnerable to identity theft. Adrienne Sharkey, whose credit was hurt when someone stole her Social Security number while she attended The George Washington University, said students need to be more aware of how easy it is to become a victim.

“Your ID card is a part of your everyday life whereas your Social Security number is something that should be very personal,” she said.

Sharkey discovered her identity had been stolen once collection agencies began to approach her with bills for service accounts opened in her name. She said GWU identified the criminal, a university employee, after an internal audit.

To curb this growing problem, lawmakers have proposed legislation to limit the use of Social Security numbers on student ID cards. The House subcommittee on Social Security met Nov. 11 to discuss tactics for reducing Social Security fraud and identity theft. Among the strategies considered was the reduction of the accessibility of Social Security numbers in universities, including on student cards.

But some students say they are unconvinced it is a problem.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s on my ID or not,” said Nihar Nabar, a freshman from the University of Michigan, “What difference would it make?”

Brian Carr, a GWU freshman, calls efforts to remove Social Security numbers from cards a “purely cosmetic measure. There are plenty of easier ways to find out my Social Security number than stealing my ID card.”

Once a criminal gets Social Security numbers they can access a plethora of personal information, which can be used to accumulate credit in wide variety of ways.

Criminals can open or manipulate credit card accounts, open bank accounts and even set up mobile phone services. Victims of identity theft are often left with bad credit histories and are required to defend their innocence to credit rating agencies and debt collecting companies.

Criminals are rarely apprehended, and can still use the Stolen Social security numbers after credit history has been restored. Catching criminals is difficult for this type of offense.

“Since the criminals are using a stolen identity, and not their own, it’s much harder to uncover who they are,” said David John, a Social Security expert at the Heritage Foundation.

Rep. E. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) expects to pass legislation next year restricting the use of Social Security numbers in universities. “They could still be used in the background, for coordinating files, but they could not be made public,” he said through spokeswoman Donna Boyer.

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