Community Colleges Leak Private Information: How to Protect Yourself

Community Colleges Leak Private Information: How to Protect Yourself
Community college students in Florida are at risk of identity theft. Learn about what private information was accidentally published on public community college websites and how students can take action to guard their identities.
A number of Florida community colleges notified faculty and students last week about a potential security leak that may leave them vulnerable to identity theft. According to a report on Wakulla.com, as many as 126,000 individuals at six Florida colleges may have found their personal information inadvertently posted on the Internet between May 29 and June 2 of this year.
 
The colleges have notified affected individuals that the leak occurred, but what steps should they take to protect their personal and financial records? 
 
Who is Responsible?
 
A report on SC Magazine states that a glitch in the College Center for Library Information's software led to the leak. According to the CCLA website, this organization provides automated library services and electronic resources to many Florida colleges. The organization determined that the leak occurred during a software upgrade, and they were unaware of the problem until a student reported finding personal information during a Google search.
 
"We pride ourselves on protecting private information and deeply regret this inadvertent exposure," CCLA CEO Richard Madaus said in a statement posted on SC Magazine, as well as other news publications. Madaus added, "I apologize to those involved for any worry or inconvenience this may cause them. We will continue to enhance our technology to safeguard all of the information entrusted to us."
 
Who was Affected?
 
Six Florida colleges were included in the leak, including:
 
       ·        Broward College
 
       ·        Florida State College at Jacksonville
 
       ·        Northwest Florida State College
 
       ·        Pensacola State College
 
       ·        South Florida Community College
 
       ·        Tallahassee Community College

These six colleges were affected by the leak because their borrower records were included in temporary files that were being processed at the time the exposure occurred. According to a report in the Miami Herald, Miami Dade College, along with 20 other institutions, was not affected by the leak.   
 
The final tally was around 126,000 students, faculty and staff members of these colleges that had personal information posted online. While the CCLA acknowledges that the information appears to have been viewed by unauthorized individuals, there is no evidence at this time that the data has been misused.
 
What is Being Done?
 
The CCLA website states that, "Upon discovery of this issue, CCLA notified the leadership at all affected colleges and initiated a security investigation." The incident was also reported to the Leon County Sherriff's Office Financial Crimes Unit in Tallahassee. Through the investigation, CCLA was able to identify the individuals who were directly affected by the leak and notified all of them by letter.
 
The letter encourages affected individuals to take necessary steps to protect themselves, including placing alerts with all the major credit agencies that minimize the risk of identity theft. Contact information for the credit bureaus is also posted on the CCLA website.
 
Protection Tips
 
The Miami Herald article said that even before this security breach occurred, college students have been urged to protect themselves against identity theft by the Better Business Bureau. A recent Identity Fraud Survey Report released by Javelin Strategy and Research revealed that adults between the ages of 18 and 24 took as much as 132 days to detect identity theft – much longer than other age groups. The significant amount of lag time is attributed to individuals in this age category taking much larger losses as a result of identity theft that occurred. 
 
John Tyler Community College in Virginia offers these tips for protecting yourself from identity theft on their website:
 
       ·        Protect your social security number
 
       ·        Use care when giving out personal information
 
       ·        Shred papers before throwing them away
 
       ·        Retrieve mail right away and put a hold on delivery when out of town
 
       ·        Check bills and bank statements promptly for errors
 
       ·        Check credit reports at least once a year for discrepancies
 
       ·        Guard personal information on your computer
 
       ·        Stop pre-approved credit card offers by calling 888-5OPTOUT
 
       ·        Use caution when shopping online

The key to catching identity theft before it starts is to remain vigilant of your personal and financial information. If something appears erroneous on a statement, report the discrepancy to the appropriate agency immediately. The longer you wait before reporting a problem, the greater likelihood that an identity thief will be able to do a significant amount of damage to your identity. In some cases, it can take years to work through financial and credit problems caused by identity theft.
 
Individuals at many Florida colleges realized the value of their personal information when they were notified that the information had been compromised. Fortunately, the problem was discovered before real problems occurred, and students and faculty can still take necessary measures to protect themselves.

Additional Resources [+]
North Carolina Community Colleges: Pioneering Increased Enrollment and Early Graduation Rates
North Carolina Community Colleges: Pioneering Increased Enrollment and Early Graduation Rates
Community Colleges Fight Back Against For-Profit Attacks: The Rebuttal
Community Colleges Fight Back Against For-Profit Attacks: The Rebuttal
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