Student SSNs e-mailed in error

Student Financial Services was trying to e-mail 1,264 students to tell them to pay their bills and avoid being blocked from spring registration. But, due to what University Spokesperson Carol Wood termed a “human error,” Student Financial Services, on Tuesday, October 31, instead sent 632 e-mails to half of those students containing other students’ data, including Social Security Numbers.

Student Financial Services received a call on Wednesday morning from a student who received one of the e-mails. Wood explains the glitch like this, “Information from one half merged with the other half” of the e-mail list. Student Financial Services has since implemented a new protocol to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The office has since sent two rounds of apology e-mails—one to the students who received the data, another to students whose data has been exposed.

University officials are directing students concerned with their identity security to the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft website, which gives tips such as how to alert the credit bureau if you think your identity has been stolen. There is also a social security fraud line students can call.

These recommendations are protocol for situations like this, Wood says. But, she doesn’t anticipate that identity theft will become an issue. “In this case you take every precaution. …But we think [because] it is our own student population, our students are going to look after each other,” says Wood.

The mistake comes at a time when students are increasingly concerned about the use of Social Security numbers as student ID numbers at the University. UVA still commonly uses SSNs as student ID numbers; the numbers are commonly used at the library, dining halls and for online course registration, and are tied to all of a students’ accounts at the University.

Currently, students have the option to choose a different number, but 95 percent of students still use their SSN. UVA is in the process of abolishing SSN use altogether by switching all its information systems, including the programs that handle student data. UVA has settled on using software from PeopleSoft, an Oracle-based campus management program, and is currently seeking consultants for implementation. UVA expects to have some parts of the system up and running between 2008 and 2010.

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