The real threat of digital theft

It isn’t good enough to know how to make money — it’s also knowing how to keep it. 

Though students pursue a degree to increase their likelihood of a well-paying career, one of the growing concerns in higher education is poor financial literacy. In response, USF started Bull2Bull seminars to promote fiscal education.

On Tuesday in the Student Services Building, two Bull2Bull educators, Jaclyn Bertrand and Shane Mangold, warned students just how easy it is for thieves to steal personal information and explored the relation between credit and identity theft.

“Sadly, the world we live in means that identity theft is a constant threat,” Mangold said. “But with these tips, students can help better ensure their security from dangers of ID fraud.” 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 16 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2012, accounting for nearly $25 billion lost in individual wealth. The average incident ends up costing almost $5,000 and can happen anywhere a credit or debit card purchase is made. 

Bertrand and Mangold said they wanted to ensure students avoid falling into the same trap and understand how important being financially inept is in modern cybersociety, citing that nearly half of the fraud happens during online transactions. 

Hacker tricks like pharming, which installs malware to redirect traffic from legitimate websites to fake websites that steal sensitive financial information, continue to grow in popularity. 

Public wireless networks are at high risk of exposure to hackers who can override network protocol and view recordable details by anybody over that connection. 

A trick called “Wi-Fi sniffing” is also trending. It involves hackers who make their own network that looks like a busy public network, such as a Starbucks hotspot. Choosing the disguised network puts valuable information at risk, such as social security and bank or credit card account numbers.

One major tip from Bull2Bull is creating separate, complex passwords for each online account in one’s name. Bertrand said she is a strong advocate of this idea, especially when paying online bills. 

“A lot of people have a bank of three or four passwords they use on all of their websites,” she said. “Students need to make sure they’re using secure information to maintain their privacy.”

Though using an obvious password, such as a birthday or “password,” is discouraged, the length of the password is the most important than how hard it is to guess. 

To crack passwords, most hackers use brute-force attacks, which is a program that guesses combinations of passwords until it gets the right one. According to Intel Security, a four-figure password takes .00001 seconds to guess, while a 12-figure password takes over 4 million years to guess.

Identity theft also occurs through more personal tricks like phishing, which focuses on gaining someone’s trust before taking their identity in an indirect manner, such as filling out billing information for them.

Some students assume that since some of their purchases are made in person rather than over the phone or Internet, there is nothing to worry about. However, the seminar referenced a case from just last month, in which Anthony James David was arrested in nearby Spring Hill under the suspicion of swiping a couple’s credit cards to access their personal details. David allegedly stole more than $3,000 from his new friends and quickly tried to cover his tracks.

Bertrand and Mangold said Florida currently has the most identity theft cases per 100,000 members of the population. 

Bull2Bull is hosting more free seminars, such as an event on March 24 and April 1 on loan repayments, as well as a seminar on March 31 and April 2 that shares advice on ensuring fiscal stability before entering the workforce. More events can be found at

“Students must realize the importance of learning this information,” Mangold said. “Classes count on paper, but these lessons will be used far beyond the classroom.”