SIUC Changes Student IDs to Guard Against Identity Theft

New cards will encrypt SSNs on magnetic stripe; change is part of university plan to change the identification system at the school


CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Officials at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale are changing student identification cards to combat identity theft.

Social Security numbers - which the school uses to keep track of students - will be encrypted in a magnetic strip on the back, rather than being printed prominently on the front, said SIUC Vice Chancellor Larry Dietz, who heads enrollment management for the campus.

"What we're trying to avoid is someone being able to look over a person's shoulder and get the number that way," Dietz said Tuesday.

Starting Monday, students can get a new, free card that doesn't show their Social Security number. Previously, students were charged a $15 fee to get a card without the number on the front.

The university has a responsibility to ensure the students' personal information is guarded, Chancellor Walter Wendler said.

The card switch is a temporary fix because the university has a long-term goal of replacing the identification system at SIUC, Dietz said. Officials will likely assign random numbers to students when the $7.5 million transition is completed in the next two to three years.

More than 11,000 Illinois residents said they were victims of identity theft last year, up 15 percent from 2003, according to a federal report released Monday by the Federal Trade Commission.

Offenders can use victims' personal information - like Social Security numbers - to set up phone or utility bills, bank accounts, loans and even to apply for a job under someone else's name, possibly to hide past legal or financial problems, FTC officials said.