Identity theft and university students: do they know, do they care?

Author:Ludek Seda
Position:Flinders Business School, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

Purpose - This study aims to explain what factors influence the relationship between the university students’ knowledge of the risk of identity theft and the preventive measures they take. Design/methodology/approach - A series of semi-structured interviews was used as the primary data collection tool. The sample for this study... (see full summary)

Identity theft and university
students: do they know, do they
Ludek Seda
Flinders Business School, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
Purpose – This study aims to explain what factors inuence the relationship between the university
students’ knowledge of the risk of identity theft and the preventive measures they take.
Design/methodology/approach – A series of semi-structured interviews was used as the primary
data collection tool. The sample for this study comprised 12 undergraduate students (six males and six
females) from the Flinders Business School. The interviews were designed as face-to-face interviews.
Findings The current ndings indicate that, despite the fact that students were reasonably
knowledgeable regarding the general risk of identity theft, many of the students had only limited
knowledge about specic issues related to identity theft. It was found that the limited knowledge or
misunderstanding of specic issues prevented students from using appropriate measures that could
reduce the risk of identity theft. The students demonstrated a signicant misunderstanding of who
perpetrators typically were targeting when stealing personal information or what perpetrators of
identity theft were looking for.
Originality/value – The results of the study contribute to a better understanding of the students’
knowledge about the risks associated with identity crime. They may also assist governments and other
stakeholders with vested interests, such as nancial institutions and educational providers, to educate
individuals about the circumstances where they are potentially vulnerable to identity theft.
Keywords University students, Identity crime, Identity fraud, Identity theft
Paper type Research-paper
1. Introduction
Identity crime can take many different forms. Offenders may obtain identication
information, and use it to obtain loans, make contracts with utility providers, borrow a
rental car and never return it or the information can be sold to other offenders. Victims
then may end up with an empty bank account, and may be held responsible for the credit
card debt or other unpaid bills. Furthermore, victims may be accused of damages that
were caused by an offender when using their name. The offenders may also be
motivated to steal identication information for reasons other than for direct nancial
gain. Stolen information can be used to support human trafcking, terrorist actions or to
obtain unauthorised access to other information that is of critical importance. The
seriousness of the crime is further highlighted by the fact that victims may not know
that their identity has been stolen, and therefore, their identity can be misused by
criminals. It may take weeks, months or even years until the theft is uncovered. The
problem of identity crime is becoming increasingly common, especially in
technologically advanced countries, such as Australia, and this phenomenon deservedly
attracts media attention.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Identity theft
and university
Journal of Financial Crime
Vol. 21 No. 4, 2014
pp. 461-483
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JFC-05-2013-0032
Lozusic (2003) describes identity fraud as one of the fastest growing crimes
around the world, with estimated costs to the individual, the community and
organisations running at several billion dollars a year in Australia. An extensive
examination of fraud in Australia and New Zealand was conducted by the
Australian Institute of Criminology and PriceWaterHouseCoopers (2003). The study
examines more than 150 cases of fraud that the police and prosecution services dealt
with. The study revealed that the most common type of fraud involved obtaining
nance or credit by deception. False documents were used in 69 per cent of cases,
and were used to provide evidence of false or stolen identity. Therefore, the increase
in reports recognising identity theft and identity fraud as a serious problem for
individuals, organisations and for society as a whole is expected with the growing
recognition of this crime. Identity fraud is also an essential component of many
organised-crime activities (Australian Crime Commission, 2011). The number of
reported identity fraud cases goes beyond the investigative potential of many law
enforcement agencies (Newman and McNally, 2005). Identity crime also presents
complex jurisdictional and law enforcement issues due to its cross-national nature
(Higgins et al., 2005). Many police departments are not adequately equipped to deal
with the multi-jurisdictional nature of identity crime (White and Fisher, 2008). This
indicates that there are many issues that make reactive response impracticable or
very ineffective.
There are various denitions of identity theft and identity fraud, and, as such, there
is no clear distinction between them in the literature (Sproule and Archer, 2006;White
and Fisher, 2008). The offenders are interested in not only individuals’ but also
organisations’ identication information. The following denition of identication
information will be used in this paper.
“Identication information” means information relating to a person (whether living or dead,
real or ctitious, or an individual, or a body corporate) that is capable of being used (whether
alone or in conjunction with other information) to identify or purportedly identify the person
[…] (Commonwealth of Australia & Model Criminal Law Ofcers’ Committee of the Standing
Committee of Attorneys-General, 2008, p. 25).
Two major phases of identity crime can be distinguished. First, identication
information must be stolen; and second, an offender then uses that identication
information to obtain money, goods, services or other benets. This distinction is
important because different preventive techniques should be used against the crime.
This paper focusses only on the rst phase, that is, the theft of identication
The Council of Australian Governments issued an Agreement on a National Identity
Security Strategy in 2007, which includes the following denitions (The Council of
Australian Governments, 2007,p.3):
“Identity theft” is the theft or assumption of a pre-existing identity (or a signicant part
thereof), with, or without consent, and whether, in the case of an individual, the person is living
or deceased.
“Identity fraud” is the gaining of money, goods, services or other benets or the avoidance of
obligations through the use of a fabricated identity, a manipulated identity, or a
stolen/assumed identity.

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