By Alan Sorensen
Working under the fake organization Concerned Students of Havre High, Vicki Proctors business law students perpetrated a scam on faculty and other students this spring.
We came up with the idea at the beginning of the semester, Proctor said. We were discussing frauds and one of the students suggested that we try it.
The whole purpose was to education ourselves and the whole student body.
The scam they came up with was designed to get the respondents of a survey to freely give out their Social Security numbers. Social Security numbers were created solely for the purpose of tracking contributions by program participants. They were not meant to be used as a means of identification and can be withheld from anyone, including the Internal Revenue Service. Criminals can use peoples Social Security numbers to access all kinds of financial and personal records, leaving victims vulnerable to theft and other criminal activities.
Proctor suggests that people refrain from letting their Social Security numbers serve double duty as their drivers license numbers. Motorists can go to the drivers examiner and submit a substitute number for their state drivers license, the most common form of identification.
The students developed a survey with the approval of Principal Jim Donovan and the advice of City Attorney Tamara Barkus. The plan was for each of the 20 students to give the survey to four students and one teacher.
Based on their research in class, the students predicted that 64 percent of the 80 students polled and 41 percent of the teachers polled would fall for the scam and give out their SS numbers.
The survey asked six apparently legitimate questions about school violence:
Appropriate media reaction to the Columbine High School shootings?
Effect of music and TV on student behavior?
Parental responsibility for childrens criminal actions?
Student rights infringed by locker searches?
Stricter gun sales and safety laws?
Uniforms for HHS students?
Each survey concluded with places for the respondents name, address, birth date, grade, phone number, and Social Security number. Respondents were required to fill out all of the spaces to qualify for a pizza to be awarded during a drawing.
The final results? Students were much more likely to divulge their numbers than the class had guessed, 80 percent as opposed to 64 percent. The faculty numbers were nearly on target with 42 percent of the teachers giving out their numbers.
Proctor said the results werent too far out of line and cited national statistics that show that Montanans are among the most gullible and easily scammed people in America. Only Hawaiians scored higher than Montanans in the number per 100,000 residents who have reportedly fallen prey to scams: 11 Hawaiians to 10.3 Montanans.
At the conclusion of the project, each of Proctors students wrote a brief explanation of what he learned from the exercise.
The class then put together a booklet that describes a variety of scams the students researched during the semester.
The kids were just going all over the place, Proctor said.
The students turned to the library for information, contacted actual scam operators on the Internet, and checked with the post office about chain letters.
They collated their information and published 125 copies of a 49-page scam guide on May 14.