Due to the increasing amount of identity theft across the country, the University of Maryland, along with many other universities, is phasing out the use of Social Security numbers as student identification.
“There were no cases of identity theft, but students were getting uncomfortable with having their Social Security numbers on their cards,” University of Maryland registrar David Robb said.
UM officials had been planning to switch over for a few years and now are slowly beginning to phase in random student identification numbers. New freshmen each year will receive randomly assigned IDs, and Robb predicts UM will solely use ID numbers in four to five years.
The major problems students and universities have with using Social Security numbers is how they are out in the open and used for everything from getting advisor appointments to buying food at campus cafeterias. Like many universities, a student’s identification number, whether random or a Social Security number, is used for a myriad of activities around campus. At UM, students use their Social Security number on their identification cards to gain access to dorms, campus dining halls, libraries and sporting events.
According to Robb, other schools have had problems with hackers gaining access to the university’s systems, exposing private information. Using the social security number for a university ID made it necessary to give out the number often, just like students do with their random ID numbers. This began to cause uneasy feelings of exposure among students, Robb said.
The University of Maryland is one of the few universities left still using Social Security numbers for their students.
“Everyone is either working on switching right now or are planning to switch in the near future,” Robb said. “Most of the schools in our area have stopped using Social Security numbers.”
Many institutions making the switch from Social Security numbers to random ID numbers are switching to protect students in the future, as identity theft has not been a large issue specifically on campuses. According to Robb, there was a case of identity theft with a student’s Social Security number at a Texas university. As a preemptive measure to make students aware, more institutions across the country are acknowledging that the switch is becoming increasingly necessary as technology advances.
The University of Wisconsin has been using random student identification numbers for the past few years, switching for similar reasons as UM.
“It was actually mandated by the state legislature a few years ago as a security issue,” UW assistant registrar Karen Hanson said.
Bill Sebert at UW identification services concurred with Hanson and added that the main problem was having the Social Security numbers printed on students’ ID cards.
According to Hanson, there were no cases of identity theft, but the legislature made the UW switch as a security measure in response to the growing number of identity thefts occurring from stolen Social Security numbers nationwide.
“We were being proactive,” Hanson said.