What is Higher Education’s Role in Regards to ID Theft?
A recent study by the US Justice Department notes that households headed by individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 are the most likely to experience identity theft. The report does not investigate why this age group is more susceptible, so I’ve started a list:
- Willingness To Share Information: If myspace, facebook, and the numerous blog sites like livejournal are any indication, younger adults tend to be more open about providing personal information. While these sites may not be used by identity thieves, they nonetheless illustrate students’ willingness to divulge intimate details of their personal lives. Students might be more forthcoming with their SSN, account information and credit card numbers than are their elders.
- Financial Inexperience: Many college students are out on their own for the first time. Many also are in “control” of their finances for the first time. With that lack of experience comes a lack of experience with and knowledge about tracking expenditures and balancing checkbooks. College students are an easier target for identity thieves who can ring up several purchases before being noticed.
- Access to Credit: A walk around campus during the first few weeks of the year also reveals another contributing factor. Students are lured into applying for credit cards by attractive young men and women handing out free T-shirts and other junk. It is not unusual for a college freshman to have three or four credit cards with limits of $1000 to $5000.
- Lost Credit Cards and Numbers: This might be a stretch, but I know many college students who periodically loose their wallets, purses, etc. and who did not act quickly in canceling their debit and credit cards. I also know many who have accidentally left a campus bar without closing their tab. It would be trivial to get access to someone else’s card at these establishments. Along with this reason comes access to friends’ and roommates’ cards.
I’m sure there are many more contributing factors. What interests me is determining the appropriate role of the university in helping to prevent identity theft among this age group. Most colleges and universities now engage in information security awareness and training initiatives with the goal of protecting the university’s infrastructure and the privacy of information covered by regulations such as FERPA, HIPPA, and so on. Should higher education institutions extend infosec awareness campaigns so that they deal with issues of personal privacy protection and identity theft? What are the benefits to universities? What are their responsibilities to their students?