COLUMBIA, S.C. – University of South Carolina officials are advising students to watch their credit reports after the Social Security numbers of as many as 1,400 students were mistakenly e-mailed to classmates.
A department chairwoman distributing information about summer classes accidentally attached a database file to an e-mail she sent Sunday. The database included students' Social Security numbers.
So far, the school is not aware of any misuse of the information, but officials notified students of the lapse Monday and suggested they take precautions against identity theft.
"By and large, most have been understanding it was an inadvertent action," university spokesman Russ McKinney said Friday. "There have been a handful that were rather upset that this may have happened."
Similar incidents, or the fear of them, have led colleges nationwide to abandon the long-held practice of using Social Security numbers for everything from submitting grades to checking out library books.
"There is a trend away from it," said Peter Ewell, a senior associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.
Montclair State University in New Jersey warned 9,100 students in October that it had accidentally posted their names and Social Security numbers on the Internet for nearly four months.
And in March 2005, someone stole a laptop from the University of California-Berkeley that contained the Social Security numbers of about 100,000 alumni, graduate students and past applicants.
Clemson University made the change in 2002, in response to student complaints about constantly having to divulge their ID numbers for everyday tasks, said Steve Robbins, Clemson's director of information technology services.
The University of South Carolina already was in the middle of changing its student database. That process will not be complete until fall 2007, when students will be assigned new ID numbers, said chief information officer Bill Hogue.