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Personal Info Theft Puts Students And Parents At Risk

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NORTH MIAMI BEACH (CBS4) – At North Miami Beach High School, home of the “Chargers,” thousands of students and their parents are wondering who might be trying to “charge it,” using their personal information.

Someone stole more than 2,000 student emergency contact cards that contain the students’ social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, their parents’ names, their parents’ places of employment and home, work and cell phone numbers.

A letter alerting students and their parents was handed out in first period classes at the school Thursday, 10 days after the cards were stolen.

Students were incredulous.

“How can they lose them?” said student Octavia McFarland. “Isn’t it supposed to be, like, under lock somewhere? Somewhere safe?”

The cards were kept in a file drawer in the school’s attendance office. School system spokesman John Schuster said it is not known whether the file drawer was locked when the cards were taken.

Wayne Black, of Wayne Black and Associates, a security consulting firm was slack-jawed to learn of the breach at the High School.

“Index cards? Are you kidding me?” Black said, adding that in this age of identity theft, personal information should be encrypted and kept on computers, not lying around in unsecured file drawers.

Black said the breach at North Miami Beach could set the students up for a host of hassles for a long time to come.

“What a way to start out. You’re in high school, and before you even get out in the business world, someone has stolen your social security information,” Black said.

Tatiana Paul, a North Miami Beach student who aspires to be a lawyer, said she and her parents are worried sick.

“We’re seniors, and we’re applying for college and financial aid, and we don’t know what can happen,” Paul said. “That’s our personal information.”

Roxie Williams, a parent picking up her daughter Thursday, said she will sue the school system if anyone in the family suffers identity theft as a result of the stolen information.

“What else can I do?” the parent said. “I can’t allow myself to be ruined because they’re not protecting me.”

Rod Griffin, a spokesperson for Experian, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies, said North Miami Beach students and their parents should notify Experian or one of the other credit agencies – Equifax or TransUnion – and have an alert placed on their accounts.

“The parents should have an alert placed on their accounts, too, because a good deal of their personal information was also compromised,” Griffin said.

If any credit agency is notified, it will share the information with the other two.

Accounts will be monitored for free for 90 days to guard against anyone fradulently using the stolen information to get credit to make purchases or withdraw cash.

Those reporting the North Miami Beach High School theft should give the credit agency the case number assigned to the investigation by Miami-Dade Schools police: T-05319.

There are also a variety of agencies that will constantly monitor your credit activity for an extended period of time, but for a fee.

The letter to parents and students from the school system also urges them to call the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) to get “detailed information to help you deter, detect and defend against any use of compromised information.” The FTC can be reached at 1-877-438-4338.

Black, the security consultant, was at a loss to understand why students would be asked for their social security numbers.

“Why does the high school have it? Why do they need to have it?” Black said. “I don’t think they do.”

Schuster, the school spokesperson, was unable to answer that question Thursday afternoon.

Security at North Miami Beach High is being improved, beginning with the placement of a video camera in the office where the contact cards were stolen.

“We’re recommending more security measures for all schools,” Schuster said. “This is information that is valuable, and can be misused if it’s in the wrong hands.”

North Miami Beach is a magnet school. Ironically, the school that kept students’ personal information on index cards in a file drawer, offers “Information Technology” as one of its major courses of study.

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