College students are particularly vulnerable to identity theft, reports U.S. News & World Report. Roughly half of all colleges use Social Security numbers as student identifiers, and many post grades by ID number. And it’s the Social Security number that unlocks the door to a credit history. College and university computer systems are a gold mine of personal information about students, and several security breaches have occurred in the past few years. Servers at the University of Georgia, for example, were hacked last year, exposing key data about thousands of applicants and students. California, New York, and Wisconsin have enacted laws restricting the use of Social Security numbers by universities.
A growing peril in the electronic age, identity theft usually entails stealing someone’s identity by using his or her personal financial information–name, Social Security number, date of birth, and the like–to apply for new credit cards and loans. The victim isn’t accountable for most of the money stolen but still must deal with the headache of erasing bogus accounts from his credit record and battling collection agencies. According to the Federal Trade Commission, close to 10 million Americans fell victim to identity theft last year, a 41 percent increase from 2002.