CSUN alumna raises awareness on ID theft

Theresa Wray

Students are easy targets for identity theft, one the most serious consumer crimes in the nation, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Linda Foley, a former CSUN student, became a victim of identity theft in 1997 when she gave her Social Security number to her new employer at a small magazine. Within days, her employer had applied for a cell phone and several credit cards in Foley’s name. Foley not only lost her job, but she also had the time-consuming task of cleaning up her credit.

“It can impact a person’s life for several years,” said Foley. “Your Social Security number is tied to everything. Students should be careful in how they use it.”

Foley founded the Identity Theft Resource Center to educate people on identity theft prevention. The ITRC website has a section called “Teen Space,” which is specifically designed for students.

“Students are vulnerable to identity theft because they have not learned how to use their personal information,” said Foley. “You don’t always have to give up your Social Security number just because someone asks for it.”

Identity thieves use many scams to obtain a victim’s personal information. For example, bogus credit card offers can put students at risk when identity thieves pose as bank representatives and ask for a Social Security number over the phone.

“Hang up and call them back to make sure it is a legitimate number,” said Ann Galadzhyn, a bank manager at Wachovia Bank in Glendale. “A legitimate bank will only ask for the last four digits of your Social Security number.”

Liane Roth, a senior journalism student at CSUN, was told by Washington Mutual Bank that she qualified for a $1,000 credit card. Her application was denied, however, after the bank’s internal audit revealed that she was delinquent in her previous credit card payments with the bank.

But Roth never owned a credit card with Washington Mutual. Two years prior, the bank had issued a credit card to someone else who used her Social Security number to rack up $2,300 in debt.

“I spent about a year trying to prove to Washington Mutual that it was my Social Security number. The guy who stole it never had to prove anything,” said Roth. “I still can’t get a credit card at Washington Mutual.”

In February 2007, Javelin Strategy and Research reported that 8.4 million people were victims of identity theft, costing a total of $49 billion. But identity theft is not just about stealing your money. It’s about stealing your identity.

The California Student Aid Commission issued a warning to students last year. The warning referenced a Cal Grant recipient who was asked to provide financial information over the phone by someone who was falsely representing the commission.

“Never provide personal information over the phone,” said Catherine Grant, a representative at the U.S. Department of Education. “Don’t let identity thieves steal your educational future.”

When Social Security numbers were first issued in 1936, the intent was to use the information for Social Security programs. Today, they are used as tracking numbers for employers, banks, government agencies and educational institutions.

California is one of 10 states with the constitutional right to privacy. The Privacy Act of 1974 requires schools that use Social Security numbers to provide a disclosure statement telling students how their numbers will be used.

CSUN protects student information by using a randomly selected identification number that cannot be traced to the student’s Social Security number.

But the Internet has made it easier for identity thieves to access personal information. Many company safeguards can be exploited because identity thieves are getting better at their craft, said Foley.

“They can commit crimes and have a steady source of income all in your name,” said Foley. “Identity theft education needs to start in high school because once you get to be a freshman in college, it’s too late. Your information is already out there.”