Student Loan Identity Theft

March 31, 2010

By Nicole Mayer:

More than three million students, already dealing with student loan debt, now have to worry about their identities being stolen due to a major security breach.

Sometime between March 20th and March 21st, a safe believed to have contained 3.3 million student loan borrowers’ personal data was stolen from the Minnesota office of Educational Credit Management Corporation, also known as “ECMC.”

ECMC’s web-site states that the theft involved portable media with personally identifiable information for the student loan borrowers. The data stolen consisted of social security numbers, names, addresses and dates of birth. Just enough information for someone to steal an identity.

Students at Risk of Identity Theft

In an attempt to rectify the situation, ECMC states in a letter sent to affected borrowers on March 31st, that it is offering its customers free credit protection services from Experian for 12 months.

One borrower whose information was stolen, Jackie Zaifert of Tampa, Florida, thinks ECMC should be doing more to protect her.  Zaifert said, “Credit monitoring for 12 months frankly just doesn’t cut it. It is very likely that someone could use my information two or three years from now, and I think I should be protected against that.”

On March 31, 2010, ECMC sent a letter to the affected borrowers, suggesting that they consider placing a security freeze on their credit file. This would prevent anyone from accessing your credit file.

Despite this recommendation, ECMC is not paying for the security freeze. Zaifert’s take on this is “if they think it’s a good idea that we have a security freeze, and that we are safer with it, then they should pay for it. It’s the least they can do while all of us are worried sick about our private data being misused.”

Getting More Information

ECMC is not commenting publicly on whether the stolen data was encrypted.

Zaifert spoke with ECMC employee John Gargaro in an attempt to get some piece of mind. According to Zaifert, “when I asked whether the information was encrypted they said they could not give me that information. When I asked for the name of an investigator in charge of this they just said, ‘the FBI.'”

The Oakdale, Minnesota police report on the theft indicates that someone broke into the ECMC building betwen 5:00 p.m. on Saturday March 20th and 3:40 p.m on Sunday March 21st. The police report describes the stolen property as a “safe” believed to “contain computer back-up disc(s) containing clients’ personal information.”

A third degree felony of this nature is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of $10,000 in Minnesota.

Was Your Information Stolen?

ECMC guarantees student loans in a number of states.  A spokesperson from ECMC told the Washington Post that the number of borrowers affected is 628,038 in Virginia; 76,939 628,038 in Maryland and 17,553 in the District.

ECMC is also the designated guarantee agency for the loans of borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy. Chances are, if you filed bankruptcy after recieving a federal student loan, your loan is guaranteed by ECMC.

If your information was among that stolen from ECMC, you should receive notification in the mail soon. You can also call ECMC at 1-877-449-3568 or register on ECMC’s website.