Facebook Identity Thefts Shake USF

Several USF students have fallen victim to identity theft and harassment through Facebook.com, and now Public Safety and ITS are conducting an in-depth investigation. The University is stressing the importance of protecting private information on the Internet.

Facebook.com is one of the many popular networking directories that allows college students and faculty to connect online. It is widely considered one of the safer networking websites, in that it is more privatized and exclusively for students and faculty with official college and university email accounts. However, just like everything else on the Internet, one can never be sure who is reading, creating or receiving information.

In the first weekend of March, when junior psychology major Paloma Lopez noticed something was different about her profile on Facebook.com, she dug deeper to find out that someone had stolen her identity on the website and written threatening and harassing messages under her name. It did not take her long to realize that she was not alone.

In fact, as of April 13, nine other USF students’ identities had also been stolen, apparently by the same person, due to the nature and similarity of the messages being sent and posted on other peoples’ profile pages. Soon, the victims of identity theft all started referring to the culprit, somewhat jokingly, as the “Facebook Hacker.” They simply hoped that the harassment would stop.

Two weeks ago this reporter brought the incidents to the attention of USF administration, ITS and Public Safety and these offices have taken the identity theft more seriously. Officer Young from Public Safety, along with Gilbert Lee and Ken Yoshioka of ITS have begun an in-depth investigation of the case, calling it a violation of several of USF’s privacy codes, behavioral codes (for the harassment), and identity theft, emphasizing that because the suspect did not actually infiltrate any of the school’s computer system.

Lopez thinks that the identity thief accessed her Facebook.com password through her USFConnect e-mail account. “Because the default password they give [students] is our birthday, they were able to figure mine out. I didn’t ever change mine, so it was easy for them to access my USFConnect account. And that’s pretty scary considering the fact that they then have access to my personal emails, my FAFSA information that has my Social Security Number and my Facebook password.” Apparently, that was the case for all ten of the people whose accounts were tampered with.

Since the administration was alerted to the Facebook identity thefts, ITS has posted a notice on the USF Connect page urging anyone with a usfca.edu email account to change the password.

Bradley Thathiah, a junior graphic design major and fellow victim of identity theft agrees. “It’s too bad someone has enough time on their hands to try to make other people’s lives miserable without having confront them face to face.no pun intended.”

Although many of the students are able to look at the situation as simply ridiculous, some, including those at Public Safety, ITS and USF administration are seeing it as a serious and highly punishable offense. They hope that these incidents will raise awareness about how to protect one’s identity on the Internet. According to assistants and engineers at ITS, this kind of identity theft is possible to trace, and easy to prevent. Simply using obscure and what they refer to as “strong” passwords-a mix of characters-and monitoring one’s public content on the Internet can help protect one’s identity online. Officers at Public Safety want to assure students that they are on the case and taking it seriously. Online harassment may not necessarily be punishable by state or federal law, but it is at USF. And identity theft is illegal under any circumstance or jurisdiction.

Ryan Garcia, coordinator of judicial affairs at USF said that USF is doing everything in its power to investigate the case and find out who the identity thief is. He said serious measures will be taken- possibly including expulsion-as soon as they identify the culprit. In the meantime, he said that the information on these popular online social networks such as Facebook. com or MySpace.com, is being used to investigate similar cases in colleges and high schools. He said police are also using these sites to investigate criminal cases and many businesses use it to look people up before they hire them. Garcia said while keeping passwords secret to protect one’s identity is one step, playing it smart and being careful about what one reveals about oneself on the Internet is just as important.

Mold Causes Some Departments to Relocate Once Again

At the end of March, the theology, psychology and philosophy departments, who recently moved out of Campion Hall due to renovations, were asked to vacate their offices again, but this time due to the presence of mold within the partitioning office walls.

During the renovation of Campion Hall, the theology, psychology and philosophy departments were moved into portable buildings, serving as both classrooms and offices on Welch Field. The departments moved into their temporary spaces in mid- January.

The Rev. James T. Bretzke, S.J., theology chair, said that Facilities Management asked the departments to evacuate immediately taking only essentials. Glenn Loomis, the assistant vice president of Facilities Management, reported that the mold was discovered after Environmental Safety sent a sample of one of the portables’ walls to an independent lab for analysis.

Within the same day of testing, Facilities Management contacted the departments who were using the portables as offices to vacate their offices. Fortunately for the psychology department, only one of their two portables tested positive for mold. However, the theology and philosophy departments found themselves temporarily homeless.

The test that confirmed the presence of mold was the last of three tests that were performed over a two-week period. Bretzke reported that he and the theology department program assistant had been having “bad sinus headaches” and other health related issues after spending extended amounts of time in their offices. Bretzke addressed his concerns to Facilities who performed an air quality test that came out negative. However, the headaches and health problems persisted, and Facilities performed another test on the moisture in the walls. This test also suggested that everything was fine.

Bretzke said that after the testing, Facilities told him that perhaps the headaches “were an allergic reaction from the trees outside or they were stress related and that [I] should work out more.” However, after the walls were peeled back revealing black mold within, and it was evident that Bretzke’s complaints were not psychosomatic.

Facilities immediately hired movers to store all of the office equipment in the Maraschi room by April 5.

The mold outbreak most likely resulted from the installation of wet lumber when partition walls were installed into the portables. Loomis reported that when the portable building company, Mobile Modular, built office walls into the portables they had left their lumber out in the rain and had not allowed the wood to dry before installation. Loomis also said that Mobile Modular would be charged with fixing the mold problem and with the cost of hiring movers for removing all the office equipment.

For now, most of the faculty from the theology and philosophy departments are still without personal office space. However, program information and faculty members can still be reached through the program assistants on the fourth floor of Gleeson Library or by email.

Journalism and Social Justice Forum Calls All Writers With a Cause

The media often gets a bad rap for being exploitive and shallow in its reporting of important issues. Negative criticism of the media as a whole often overshadows the dedicated work of journalists who fight for social justice through their reporting.

Teresa Moore, media studies professor and faculty advisor for the Foghorn said, “The media is talked about as one general thing. But, it is so much richer and more complex than people realize.”

Next Monday, two highly accomplished investigative reporters will be visiting USF to discuss their experiences as social justice journalists. Scheduled to speak at the forum are A.C. Thompson and Nell Bernstein.

The “Write for Right: Social Justice Journalism” forum is the first event in a discussion series organized to promote awareness about the journalism minor. “We wanted to provide a venue for students to talk to real reporters. where they feel comfortable asking them anything,” said Moore.

Referring to Bernstein and Thompson, Moore said, “They go to the places that most can’t and won’t go to and show us things that people really need to see.” Striving to give a voice to the voiceless, “their advocacy is based on solid reporting,” said Moore.

Th ompson is a senior writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He received the highly prestigious 2005 George Polk Award for “Forgotten City.”

“[Thompson] is a one-man staff . The Polk award committee knew that he was working with a lot less than the bigger newsrooms, but he is still able to do important work,” said Moore.

His reporting in “Forgotten City” exposed the dire straits of public housing in San Francisco and led to legislation to reverse the city’s negligence.

Bernstein has dedicated the last six years of her work to reporting about the lives of the children of prisoners. Bernstein said, “I wanted to answer the question as to how such a large number of kids could become so invisible.” Her work has been featured in many publications including Salon.com, the Washington Post and Glamour.

Bernstein’s reporting on this subject is compiled in her book, “All Alone in the World: Children of Incarcerated Parents.” Her exposure of the issue has also led to a resolution by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors calling for a Bill of Rights for Children of Incarcerated Parents.

Instead of simply quoting politicians, Bernstein said, “Journalists should be in the habit of making the person who is aff ected by a policy their primary source.”

The “Write for Right: Social Justice Journalism” forum will be free and open to all on April 24 from 4-5:30pm in the University Center Faculty Lounge room 222.


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