"Students are encouraged to keep all personal information, Social Security Numbers, 900 numbers, passwords, etc., private," said Rebecca Long, public relations specialist for Chattahoochee Technical College. "Signs in the computer labs, classrooms and libraries tell the students not to leave their computers logged on when they leave, as this is an opportune time for others to gain access to a student's personal information. For example, that student checking his or her bank account during a break between classes should log off the computer completely to avoid someone coming in behind them and gaining access to that information."
According to a report by the Better Business Bureau, in 2010, 8.1 million Americans -- or 3.5 percent of the population -- became victims of identity theft. The average mean cost of identity theft is $631 and the average time to resolve identity fraud is 33 hours.
The report says "friendly fraud" -- meaning fraud committed by an acquaintance -- accounts for 14 percent of all ID theft crimes.
"The college has put in place several safeguards to make sure students' information is safe," Long said.
For example, applicants are assigned a 900 number that they use throughout their time at CTC. These numbers allow students to complete tasks like registering, buying books, checking on financial aid and signing up for tutoring.
"All students are covered by [The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act]," Long said. "We only share what is determined by the college and FERPA as directory information. This information includes name, program of study, [full-time or part-time] status, dates of attendance, degrees, diplomas, certificates awarded, participation in student organizations and student email addresses. In fact, FERPA allows us to share student addresses, but we have elected not to do so to protect our students.
"The Solomon Amendment, however, is a federal law that requires us to release this information to military recruiters. If students do not want this information shared, they can file a FERPA objection form that prevents release of any information to third parties."
Other security measures include password-protected encryption security used in student database, issuance of a student ID card and a CTC One card for students receiving refunds and overpayments from financial aid grants and scholarships.
The BBC recommends the following for students to combat identity theft:
* Be mindful of people in close proximity who could overhear or watch as sensitive financial or personal information is provided on the phone, websites or while shopping.
* Avoid providing your full nine-digit Social Security number whenever possible. Ask if you can provide alternate information instead.
* Don't carry Social Security cards or unnecessary credit cards or checks.
* Request electronic financial statements and use online bill pay whenever possible. Enroll in direct deposit, shred sensitive paper documents, and don't put checks in an unlocked mailbox.
* Install and update anti-virus and anti-malware software on your computer. Keep firewall, browsers, applications and software updated as well.
* Don't publish birth date, email address, mother's maiden name, pet's name or other identifying personal information on social networking sites. Use privacy settings to control who has access to your profile.
* Use strong passwords that combine letters, numbers and symbols, and change them regularly. Don't access unsecure websites or type in personally identifiable information while using public Wi-Fi on mobile devices, laptops or computers. Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when they're not being used.
* If conducting business online, provide personal or financial information only on secure sites. To recognize these sites, look for a padlock symbol and an "s" after the "http" in the address bar.
* Be vigilant in monitoring bank and credit card statements to spot unauthorized activity. The most common method for fraudsters to take over a victim's account is by changing the physical address, so sign up for security alerts that are sent to your mobile phone or email account whenever changes are made to your account or personal information.
Calls to Georgia Highlands College concerning their safety measures were not returned.