“Dude, You’re Screwed” How A Teen Was Tricked Into Giving Up His Family’s Personal Identifiable Information

With a kid in college, a two-year old and an 9 month old, it’s a rare moment when this dad has a chance to veg and watch a TV show; but somehow this happened a few weeks ago.  My wife was out with our two youngest kiddos, my brain was nearly fried from a busy day; so I decided to finish frying it with some TV!  I came across a program that caught my attention; a show interestingly titled, “Dude, You’re Screwed”.

While working with teens I hear them utter this phrase “Dude You’re Screwed”,  from time to time. It’s used especially when someone is in a predicament with no apparent way out.  And that’s exactly what this TV show as about; outdoor enthusiasts who are blindfolded, put on a plane and dropped off in the middle of a jungle somewhere in the world and they have to figure out a way to survive.  As an avid outdoorsman myself, I was drawn in from the very first minute.  Of course it’s just a TV show; someone would most certainly swoop in and save the day if ‘dude’s’ life was threatened; so it really amounts to nothing more than some good entertainment.

However, there was nothing good or entertaining when one of my students ended up giving his entire family’s personal identifiable information to an unintended third-party over the internet.  His friends may have been chuckling at him, punching him on the shoulder and telling him that he is “so screwed” but it wasn’t a laughing matter.  How did it happen?  Despite numerous warnings from college admissions counselors, school counselors and other advisers,  some kids take the bait of a third-party entity when applying for college financial aid.  This particular student thought he was on the  US Department of Education website known as The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), when he gave up all of his family’s personal information.  It turned out that it was not the US Department of Education’s website.

A college financial aid application is a treasure trove for a savvy criminal or an identity thief because it contains all of the tax returns filed for the previous year.   The FAFSA contains family members’ names, address(es)  phone numbers, along with your family’s annual income, places of employment,  your home and work addresses, your income tax statement (and with that goes the SS#’s for you and your family, birth dates of the entire family, and other sensitive information).  Once this information gets into the wrong hands it can be sold several times over or used for various credit applications in your or your kids’ names or it can be used for other elaborate schemes, allowing criminals to inflict substantial harm before you or your kids are even aware.

The US Department of Justice gives some very useful information on protecting yourself against identity theft here at the follow web address:  http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html

What’s a Parent to Do?

Be careful to guide your kid during this process because there are lots of sensitive data he or she is working with.   I remind all of my students and their parents that they should be sure they are at the following web address when applying for federal student financial aid:

http://fafsa.gov/

Today (June 30, 2014), is the federal deadline for college students to submit their FAFSA for the 2013-2014 college academic year.  If your kid just finished their senior year in high school, the US Department of Education gives them until June 30, 2015 to get their FAFSA squared away.   However, besides federal deadlines there are also state deadlines for college financial aid, and college deadlines.  Ideally, once your high school senior finds out what college they will be attending they should begin the financial aid application process as soon as possible by working closely with their future college’s financial aid office to avoid missing any deadlines.  Also ask your kid’s high school counselor for information about any local scholarships available to seniors.

Finally remember, your high school senior may be bombarded with all kinds of emails containing links; plus snail-mail asking him or her to sign up for financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, and loans.  Continue to guide them along – there are lots of cyber criminals seeking to dupe unsuspecting high school and college kids.

 

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