During a financial training session, an Iowa State University Extension specialist asked her participants, a group of Corrections staff, to fill out a card. A murmur filled the room as they complied. They wondered why she needed their address, height, weight, phone number and Social Security number — but they completed the cards and gave them to her.
The Corrections officers were getting their first lesson in protecting consumer privacy. Margaret VanGinkel, ISU Extension family resource management specialist, then told them, “Never, ever give out personal information when you have no idea how it will be used.”
ISU Extension began providing education on protecting consumer privacy more than a decade ago with information about Social Security number use. As laws are written and technology advances, ISU Extension information evolves and now includes facts about credit card numbers, direct marketing (telemarketers and do-not-call lists), health privacy and opting out of having personal information shared with others.
A Web site connects visitors to ISU Extension publications on protecting consumer privacy and to frequently asked finance questions. Extension specialists are asked to present the “Who’s Got Your Number?” program and frequently include consumer privacy information as part of other financial trainings.
Penny Fox, director of Hawkeye Community College’s Senior Companion Program, asks ISU Extension to provide consumer privacy protection training to all her “companions” before they begin visiting and working with the county’s most elderly citizens.
“The elderly are very trusting, and that makes them easy targets for people stealing personal information,” Fox said. “But once they are schooled, they are wiser. They make better choices personally and can look out for the people they are assisting.”
Consumers anxious to protect their confidential information and professionals wanting identity theft information for continuing education could take an ISU online short course this winter. The noncredit course was particularly relevant to professionals who have a legal responsibility to protect client information.
“Conducting this course online made it possible for people with very different work schedules to interact, receive training and become aware of their vulnerabilities,” said Steffen Schmidt, ISU political science professor and co-author of the course textbook “Who Is You? The Coming Epidemic of Identity Theft.”
“This is just one more way we can help consumers in general, and professionals specifically, become more alert about handling personal identification information,” Schmidt said.