Memorizing one ID number for access to computers, grades and financial aid processing makes life easier for the average student. But USM’s regular use of social security numbers for IDs may put students at risk.
In 1936 the federal government created social security numbers to administer the social security system. These nine digits have since become an access code of sorts for personal information including credit, medical, and academic records.
The practice of using social security numbers on campus has been questioned by some students, administrators, and citizen organizations. Concerns have centered on the issue of privacy because of what can be obtained using someone’s social security number.
Rodney Mondor, assistant director of Student Involvement and Greek Life, was a victim of credit card fraud last year because someone saw his social security number on an old pay stub. The person then used the number to obtain a credit card in Mondor’s name.
Mondor learned of the fraud a week later when his credit card company called to ask why he had gotten another card when he already had available credit.
Mondor took the necessary steps to cancel the card, but not before the criminal racked up thousands of dollars in charges. Though it happened almost a year ago, he is still working with credit companies to resolve the situation.
Mondor’s case is not rare for credit card companies and credit reporters.
“They take it nonchalant because it happens all the time,” he said. “With the Internet it happens even more.”
Credit cards can now be applied for over the Internet without a signature. This process has made it much easier for criminals to commit fraud.
Current University practice requires students to submit their social security numbers on the Internet and over the phone, both of which are vulnerable to hackers.
Some students, aware of the dangers of giving out their social security numbers, have attempted to change their student ID numbers.
Melissa Noyes, a communication major, transferred to USM in the fall of 1999. Her former school did not use social security numbers as student IDs. She was surprised that USM did.
“When I first came to the school I wasn’t thrilled about giving out my social security number all the time,” said Noyes. She went to the Registrar’s Office to request a change of her student ID.
She was told she could do so but it could lead to problems with her financial aid. Noyes decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.
“A significant number of students have their own ID,” said Registrar Steve Rand. But he admitted, “It has a great potential for creating a problem.”
“Why would I want to take a chance at screwing up the funding for my education?” said Noyes.
There are other students who feel that other University practices which require social security numbers are unfair and even dangerous for students.
Justin LaBerge, treasurer of the Student Senate, said he has concerns about the use of social security numbers on Student Senate nomination forms. Students wishing to have their names on the ballot for the Student Senate elections must first gain 20 students’ signatures along with their IDs. Student IDs are necessary in order to verify that the signatures are those of USM students.
“I feel uncomfortable putting my constituents in the position of having to divulge their social security numbers in an effort to engage in the democratic process,” said LaBerge.
The Maine Civil Liberties Union also speaks strongly against the use of social security numbers on college campuses.
“It’s a practice that the college should change,” said Sally Sutton, executive director of MCLU. “It’s very important information for someone to keep confidential.”
Sutton said the practice makes it easy for students to have their social security numbers stolen.
“You might as well stamp it on your forehead and advertise it,” she said.
Sutton said that students who want to explore this further should know there are resources available.
According to Rand, social security numbers are used as student IDs for two reasons. First, it is a number that students can easily remember. Secondly, it is an easy way to connect students to their federal financial aid.
“Social security numbers must be used to request funds for financial aid,” said Rand.
Still, as was Noyes’ experience, some schools do not use social security numbers for student IDs. Boston University recently changed its policy of using social security numbers.
Rand said for now he is confident that students’ social security numbers are safe.
“It is a highly protected field,” said Rand. “It is used internally within the campus for tracking purposes.”
Rand also mentioned that the University treats students’ addresses with the same degree of privacy.
Aware of student concerns, Rand said it would be hard to change the process.
“It would be very difficult to do with our current computer system,” he said.
Staff Writer Tyler Stanley can be contacted at: [email protected]