Student's ID used to falsely charge more than $5,000

Kara Catanzarite thought she had received a prank call.

"It was 8 at night and someone saying they were from a collection agency called," Catanzarite said. "I had no idea why they wanted to talk to me."

What Catanzarite was about to uncover was far more serious than a prank. Someone had used her Social Security number to buy four cell phones, racking up more than $5,000 in charges.

"I was frustrated and angry," Catanzarite said. "It was the first week of classes and I was wondering why I should have to waste my time with this."

Indiana State Police Sgt. Rod Russell said more than 500,000 people become victims of identity fraud each year, a crime he said is impossible to prevent. Russell said identity theft can occur anywhere - from a hospital to a grocery store. The victim may not be notified that there is a problem until months after the information is obtained, and it may take months or years longer to be cleared of it.

Russell said to steal an identity thieves only need a person's birthdate, Social Security number and proof of established credit.

Everyday activities may seem secure, but they are not, he said.

"When you swipe your card through electronic machines, someone can pick up your information," Russell said.

Russell advises when purchasing something to ask if credit and debit card machines are hard-wired to the register. If they are not, a person with a scanner and a computer can get credit and Social Security data - information that is vital in order to steal someone's identity.

Technological advances, such as the Internet and wireless phones, have also created a breeding ground for identity theft, Russell said.

"No matter how secure a site says it is, all your information is floating out there somewhere," Russell said. "People sit and hack into sites all day and if they know how to break the codes, they get in."

Cordless and wireless phones should not be used to discuss issues such as credit card balances or bank information, Russell added.

"A person with a scanner or a household item such as a baby monitor can hear the calls," he said. "A hard line phone, one with a cord attaching the base to the receiver, should be used instead."

Russell said in addition to phone access, purses and wallets are filled with copies of signatures, identification numbers and birthdates - another source thieves can access to steal your identity.

"In the event that a purse or wallet is stolen, you need to first contact the police and then cancel all credit cards," Russell said. "And you shouldn't leave your Social Security card in a wallet or purse."

One way to limit the exposure to fraud through credit is to limit the number of credit cards you apply for and own, Russell said.

"The more credit cards you have, the more you open yourself up to fraud," Russell said. "Bad things can happen to your good name."

Credit card companies prey on college students, Russell said. Tables and booths are set up on campuses, luring students to apply for a credit card and receive free stuff.

"Canceling contact information on pre-approved credit card applications can protect you from identity theft," Russell said. "If you're applying for a job, credit card or financial aid, ask why certain information is needed and what will be done with it."

As a student, Catanzarite said she is concerned with Ball State's current method of student identification.

"Why couldn't someone have taken my information from Ball State?" she questioned. "The school asks you to put your Social Security number on everything you do."

Even if the number had not been acquired through the university, Catanzarite said she would feel more comfortable if another identification method was used.

"My brother goes to Clemson in South Carolina," Catanzarite said. "The students there get a random number for identification."

Russell said students on college campuses are more vulnerable than they think they are.

"You go to college to get an education," Russell said. "When you are a victim of identity fraud, that's when your real education begins."

If, after all safeguards are taken and identity fraud still occurs, it is important to act quickly, Russell said.

"If one's identity is stolen, it is up to the victim to clear their own name," he said. "There are a lot of steps to go through to recover from identity fraud."

Russell said a victim must go through a multitude of different procedures in order to salvage his or her identity that include proof of signatures, sales receipts and applications.

"When collection agencies call, they don't know if you are telling the truth," Russell said. "You have to prove who you are."


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