Identity theft is soaring to new heights in America. As many as seven million U.S. adults have been the victim of identity theft-the use of an individual's personal information to commit fraud or theft-in the past year ending June 2003, according to a recent report by Gartner Inc. This is a 79% increase in reported cases over that 12-month period, the report continues.
Surprisingly, victims aren't just falling prey to strangers or gangs of professional criminals. "More than half of all identity theft...is committed by criminals that have established relationships with their victims, such as family members, roommates, neighbors, or co-workers," said Avivah Litan, vice president and research director for Gartner Inc.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, these criminals are able to steal identification numbers by using a wide variety of hi and low-tech methods that include intercepting personal information transmitted over the Internet, illegally viewing business or personnel files, and rummaging through trash for personal data. Regardless of how someone's identity is stolen, it can take the victim years to correct the damage done to his or her personal and financial files.
With the mounting concerns over identity theft and the recognition that Social Security numbers (SSNs) are linked to a vast amount of personal information, Penn State has recently undertaken a project to replace SSNs as the primary identifier of faculty, staff, and students. "An individual's social security number is now considered confidential information. The University's use of it as a main identifier is no longer practical and may be considered by some to compromise its confidential nature," said University President Graham B. Spanier.
The scope of this multi-phased project is such that it will impact academic and administrative procedures across the University, particularly those used by front-line staff to carry out customer requests. Once the project is completed in 2005, the University's use of SSNs will be restricted. Although the University will still be required to collect SSNs for reporting and taxation purposes, their use will be strictly limited and will be outlined in official University policy.
Penn State will be assigning a unique Penn State Identification Number as the new primary identifier.
This new identifier will be a nine-digit number (formatted as 9-9999-9999) called the PSU-ID. To avoid potential confusion with SSNs, which also consist of nine digits, all PSU-IDs will begin with "9" since the Social Security Administration currently does not use "9" as the first digit of SSNs.
For more information about this project, visit the official SSN Project Web Site at http://ais.its.psu.edu/SSN. Updated regularly, the site includes a project overview, a FAQ page, a Decisions That Have Been Made page and more.