Kids' Social Security numbers on school postcards

Wake County is paying $95,000 to help parents monitor students' credit reports.

Staff WriterDecember 5, 2009 

The Wake County school system accidentally sent out about 5,000 postcards with students' Social Security numbers printed on the front, a mistake that angered parents and will cost the district nearly $100,000 to remedy.

On Tuesday, Wake schools mailed about 15,000 reminders asking parents to specify if they want to keep their children in magnet or traditional calendar schools.

About a third of those cards had the Social Security numbers printed alongside the child's name - a holdover from recent years when those nine-digit numbers were used to identify students.

Wake schools spokesman Michael Evans said older children, now in middle or high schools, still have the federal number attached to their records, and they were lifted directly from the schools' database.

"That was inadvertent on our end," Evans said. "We all regret it."

Evans knew of no student whose personal information was stolen as a result of the mistake. The school system arranged for each family to get a year's worth of free credit reports from Experian, at a cost to the district of $20 per family, and will soon send instructions for monitoring credit activity on those Social Security numbers to make sure they aren't misused. Some families have more than one student in an affected school, so the estimated cost is closer to $95,000.

The numbers appear as a solid block of digits and aren't broken off by dashes, so they wouldn't immediately look like Social Security numbers. "It's not a consolation at all," Evans said. "But fortunately, it's not as glaring as it could be."

New school board Chairman Ron Margiotta said the district had committed a "blunder" by releasing the numbers. He said he agreed with the administration's decision to pay for credit reports. "It's good we're owning up to the mistake," Margiotta said.

Many Wake County parents were horrified and said students' personal information should be more carefully protected. But the gaffe was subtle enough that some parents didn't notice.

Laura Brooks, parent of a Ligon Middle School student, stuck the card on her refrigerator without recognizing the schools' mistake. "To tell you the truth, I feel bad for them," she said. "It's not so obvious that anyone would recognize it. The school board doesn't need to give me $20."

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report. or 919-829-4818

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