An Identity Crisis No One Anticipates (Hypertext student newsletter)

This story written by Mara Abrams, a senior in Communication and Psychology, was originally published in the Spring 2004 edition of the Hypertext quarterly student newsletter. Go to http://scg/hypertext/2004spring.pdf to view a downloadable PDF of the entire newsletter.

You've probably seen those Citibank commercials with the voices of identity thieves dubbed over unsuspecting victims. And it's no wonder why more people have taken interest in shielding their good name: identity theft—which could damage personal and financial records—is on the rise. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission received over 200,000 identity theft complaints in 2003, up 33 percent from the previous year.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or other identifying information without your permission, usually to open new accounts, request credit, or charge merchandise. It could take months, even years, to clear up your records. Victims may be refused loans, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit. Even if you've never opened a credit account, you could still be an unsuspecting victim, since someone could use your personal information to open a new account in your name. Below are some helpful tips that will help you effectively deal with this growing problem.

Safety First

To minimize the risk of identity theft:

  • Make sure your student ID number isn't the same as your Social Security number. Since 2000, all incoming students have been assigned an ID number that is entirely separate from their SSN. If they are the same, visit the Registar Office (12 Mrak Hall) to change it.
  • Order a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (find out what these are at www.consumer.gov/idtheft/) and check for accuracy.
  • Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have untrustworthy roommates or are having service work done.
  • Don't keep personal identification on your computer or make online purchases unless the info is encrypted and the Web sites are secure (look for a padlock icon in the bottom corner of the page).
  • Use a paper shredder for receipts, bank statements and other documents containing confidential info.
  • Don't send personal identity info via email???it can easily be read or intercepted.
  • Visit security.ucdavis.edu for more information.
If you're a victim of identity theft:
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus. Review your credit report for accuracy and close any accounts that have been tampered with.
  • File a report with the police in the community where the identity theft took place. You may need a copy of your report to validate your claims to creditors.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-IDTHEFT. Counselors will take your complaint and advise you on how to deal with the credit-related problems that could result.
    Some info taken from "ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name" at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft/.