Michaela Menigo, a former University of Minnesota student, was informed via email that her $20,000 loan application was approved. There was only one problem, she never requested the loan, someone else did using her identity.
A 2010 Minnesota alumna, Menigo filed a report with university police upon receiving the financial aid approval. Even more puzzling, the loan was to the University of Wisconsin-Superior, an institution that Menigo never once applied to.
The suspect used Menigo’s personal information, including her Social Security number and official University of Minnesota transcript, to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Though the government approved the FAFSA, the Minnesota Daily reports that Menigo was able to cancel the request before the loans were taken out.
In Menigo’s case lightning actually has struck twice. The same criminal tried to file for federal student aid in her name back in 2012. In that attack, the fraudulent applicants were able to withdraw just under $20,000 in loans before Menigo found out.
In the 2012 incident, the fraudulent loan applicant applied for classes and paid tuition with the loan but pocketed the remaining balance. If the thief uses his or her own address on the application, the victim may not discover the fraud until they receive a notification from another organization. In Menigo’s case, the criminals used her maiden name to further throw authorities off the scent.
It’s an attack that, according to university police, can be difficult to nip in the bud.
University police prescribe a more cautious approach to personal information, particularly online. As an additional security measure, students should get an annual credit check, which lists all issued credit cards and loans.
As for online security, the Federal Trade Commission stresses the importance of keeping passwords private, using secure browsers while online and wiping laptops or phones of personal information to keep data private.
In the meantime, it has been difficult for Menigo to assist the authorities in their search for the perp because she can’t give them account information that she doesn’t have. Worse still, it’s a crime that many people are still unfamiliar with at the moment.