Four graduate students rummaging through trash closets at Mary
Markley Residence Hall for a class project last year began a series
of events that led to the creation of an identity theft web
site.

With inspiration from the project conducted by a group of law
students,
“http://www.identityweb.umich.edu”>identityweb.umich.edu was
born this fall. Now, anyone who wants to learn about identity theft
and prevention has quick access to tips for security awareness in
residence halls, guidelines for using the University’s
computer networks and a campus bulletin with security updates.

“We went into Markley and went dumpster diving and no one
stopped us,” said Law School student Colleen Hilton, who was
a member of the group. “We went through the trash and found
studs off of pay checks and Social Security numbers. I don’t
know if people actually do that, but we only went through a couple
of garbages and found enough to be able to (steal someone’s
identity).”

Besides looking through the trash, they experimented with scams,
such as those conducted either by phone or e-mail where people are
asked to supply their Social Security or credit card numbers. They
tested the processes to find out how easy it would be for someone
to obtain personal information under a false identity.

They discovered that it was not hard to do. Hilton said the
freshmen were especially vulnerable.

“A number of the community, especially the freshman,
won’t have had much experience with financial
identity,” said Liz Sweet, director of the University’s
User Advocate Office. “We are concerned that they will be at
risk as they set up their financial identification.”

Sweet and other representatives of University offices and
departments who watched the students present their projects decided
that it would be worthwhile to develop a way to inform the
University community about the dangers of identity theft and how
its members can lower their risk of becoming victims.

Public policy Prof. Virginia Rezmierski, who taught the class in
which the project was developed, said she was delighted to see the
website this fall. She did not know the extent of the
University’s plan for the project.

“I knew that several members of the University staff were
talking and working with the students. I had no idea that they
would take it further,” Rezmierski said. “It’s a
very good site. It’s attractive and very
informative.”

Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said many
students don’t seem to understand how susceptible they are to
identity theft.

“Students and others are notorious for leaving backpacks,
purses or whatever possessions they have on a table in the library
or the (Michigan) Union and they walk away from it. They should not
leave belongings unattended. They could be stolen,” Brown
said.

“Students should also shred information when throwing it
away, especially documents containing Social Security numbers.
People can use these to establish an identity.”

The shredding of information was something Hilton said was
discussed in the presentation of her group’s project.

“One thing we suggested was to have shredders available at
Angell Hall or in the dorms, even at the front desk,” she
said. “Having them will help students be more
careful.”

Because state Attorney General Mike Cox is developing a way to
inform Michigan residents about identity theft, Rezmierski said she
will be repeating the project again this year in hopes that her
students will be able to help a larger group of people.

“It’s also a good opportunity for the students to
work on a project at the state level,” Rezmierski added.

Along with Hilton, University alum Marjorie Knepp and Rackham
student Peter Schulleri and School of Information student Jeff
Woelker were the other three members of the group.

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