Stolen PC had student SSNs

January 24, 2007

Helen Schamrai

Computer owners at Rutgers-Newark now have more to worry about than just viruses and busted hardware.

Gabriela Kutting, associate professor of political science, reported her laptop stolen to Rutgers police Sept. 5, 2006. The laptop contained the social security numbers of 200 R-N students. The computer was taken from her office in Hill Hall despite having locked her door, Kutting said.

Kutting's laptop is one of five incidents of computer theft reported so far this academic year. [see graphic for other incidents] No reports of stolen personal information were made to the police in past incidences, except in Kutting's case; the computer stored her own personal information, and also student-sensitive information, including their personal identification numbers, police said.

Kutting said she had the social security numbers on the laptop because she used the information to report students' grades at the end of each semester. However, since Rutgers University began using the RUID in place of the social security number, the stolen computer only had information of students from past years.

There have not been any reports of identity theft from any of the students in Kutting's class, said Det. Lt. Bradley Morgan.

In October 2006, the laptop of a graduate student in Smith Hall was stolen from her locked office as well.

"If these were isolated incidences, then we were both unlucky. If these things occur regularly, then I think there needs to be more widespread knowledge and a policy on how to keep intellectual property safe," Kutting said

"If university data relating to both teaching and research get stolen from behind locked doors on university property, then that prevents faculty from doing their job and it becomes about intellectual property theft as well as material theft," she said.

It took until December for her to get insurance money and a replacement computer, "and now have a computer that is of a much lower standard than the stolen one as the insurance takes off a deductible of 500 dollars," Kutting said.

"Fortunately I had all my research work backed up at home, but obviously not my teaching and service files. Especially all my letters of recommendation were lost and that was a real pain."

According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. A stolen social security number can be used to apply for credit under the victim's name and buy things without paying bills, the government Web site stated.

Students worried about stolen identity can get a free annual credit report from and check to make sure their credit is balanced, Morgan said.

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