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Dallas Wiertella
Dallas Wiertella
Multimedia Editor

Through my experience here at the North Wind I have been able to have the privilege of highlighting students through all forms of multimedia journalism. Whether I'm in front or behind the camera, I aim...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Students at risk for theft

With the holiday season behind us, most students can find relief in giving their credit cards a break from overspending. For identity thieves, however, the spending has just begun.

Students tend to feel they are invincible when it comes to issues such as identity theft, Mike Prusinski, vice president of communications for Lifelock, a national company based in Tempe, Ariz. that specializes in identity theft protection. He added that they need to learn to take precautions to prevent it. Lifelock offers protection against identity theft to customers as well as assistance to people who have had their identity stolen, he said.

Students are an easy target for identity theft because they feel that it’s unlikey to affect them, he said.

“Students . feel like they are bulletproof and it won’t happen,” Prusinski said.

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They are ignorant of what is happening to their credit until they need financial support, he added.

“By the time [students] go to buy a car or leave college their credit is ruined,” he added.

Students need to be responsible with their personal information, such as not leaving mail around where someone can take it and use it, shredding unwanted documents and not carrying unnecessary credit cards or their Social Security card, said Don Peterman, crime prevention specialist for Public Safety.

There are a wide variety of options for preventing identity theft. One is credit monitoring, which many companies offer, Prusinski said. This is not the best option for protecting yourself, however.

“It doesn’t stop anyone from using your data; it just tells you when somebody uses it. They call it identity theft protection, but it doesn’t protect you at all,” Prusinski said.

Another option is placing a fraud alert, which alerts one’s financial institution every time a customer makes a purchase with his or her credit card, Prusinski said. The alert puts a red flag on every credit card purchase and notifies the owner of the card.

However, fraud alerts need to be renewed every 90 days by the customer, by contacting their credit bureaus that offered them the fraud alert program, Prusinski said. Fraud alerts aren’t always efficient. Some organizations that provide the alerts don’t follow the rules set in place and there can be some financial losses to deal with, but it is the most effective way, since customers are constantly in charge of their information, he added.

The most drastic way to prevent identity theft is a credit freeze, which freezes the customer’s credit, so that if they try to purchase something, they are unable to until the freeze is lifted, Prusinski said.

Freezing credit can be inconvenient and costly. The customer has to pay each time he or she lifts the freeze and re-apply it and some organizations still don’t work with credit bureaus, Prusinski said.

Students themselves are the best defense in guarding their own identities, Prusinski said. However, they need to take the necessary precautions.

“People don’t need a company like Lifelock. The big issue here is people aren’t doing enough to protect themselves. It’s not a matter of if this is going to happen; it’s when it’s going to happen. People need to protect themselves,” Prusinski said.

Maria Catherino, a sophomore computer science major, has become more cautious about giving out personal information after an incident of identity theft within her family.

“My parents bought some furniture somewhere downstate. Someone who had worked at the furniture store stole their information and [purchased] a couple thousand dollars worth of CDs and sound equipment, charging it to their credit card,” Catherino said.

David Hilden, a senior philosophy major said he isn’t proactive about protecting himself against identity theft because he doesn’t feel that vulnerable to it and keeps good track of his credit card bills.

To determine if your identity has been stolen, check your credit report. If there’s anything suspicious or if you start getting bills in the mail for things you haven’t purchased or receive notices from the IRS for failed back-taxes, call the credit bureaus and contest it immediately, Prusinski said. Every American is entitled to one free credit report each year.

Identity theft seems to be a problem because it is anonymous and fairly simple to do, Hilden said.

“It must be kind of easy to get away with. Most people don’t have the courage to rob people to their faces, or they don’t feel guilty about it in the same way that they would feel if they stole things out of people’s houses,” Hilden said.

Once you determine that your identity has been stolen, file a police report, then contact the Federal Trade Commission, the agency responsible for statistics on identity theft, Prusinski said.

However, unlike normal crimes in America, proving you were wronged and didn’t spend the money yourself isn’t an easy task, Prusinski said.

“With identity theft [the victim] is guilty until proven innocent. That’s the worst part about this crime, it’s the loss of time and the frustration of having to try and prove that they weren’t the one who did this,” he said.

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