OneCard faces an identity crisis

Firsthand forgery proves security in issuing cards is overly lax

Zarana Sanghani

Senior Staff Writer

It seems inconceivable that someone could claim to be you, check out $100 worth of library books, never return them and leave you stuck with the bill, unless that person had a shiny, new OneCard with your name and identification number on it.

What are the chances of someone being able to commit such fraud against you? No one seems sure, but many students said they were not asked to show any form of identification when taking their pictures and receiving their new, all-purpose University of Houston ID cards at the University Center.

Sophomore education major Bryant Simms said he was not asked to show any ID when he got his OneCard.

"They just made me give my Social Security number," he said. "For someone to be able to impersonate you with any official document is a bad thing."

The Daily Cougar, acting on reports that OneCard distributors routinely failed to ask prospective cardbearers for identification, sent Staff Writer Brenda Tavakoli to the UC to get a OneCard Thursday.

Tavakoli, a 5-foot, partly Middle Eastern female with shoulder-length black hair, filled in a OneCard form with the name and Social Security number of Daily Cougar Managing Editor Camilla McElligott, a 5-foot-4-inch female with long, reddish-blonde hair.

After Tavakoli's picture was taken, she was handed an official OneCard bearing McElligott's name and identification number, no questions asked.

"This should not have happened," said Jackie Mitchell, manager of the Cougar OneCard office. "I agree that they should ask for a driver's license or old UH ID. If that didn't happen, I apologize and will make sure that it does not happen again."

Mitchell said the university sent pamphlets with information about the OneCard to students during the summer, including a reminder to students that they would be asked for a picture ID when they came to get their OneCards.

The office assistants who process the forms, take photographs and hand out OneCards were trained to ask for picture IDs before they began issuing cards, she added.

But Mitchell, who supervises the office assistants who make the cards, admitted she had noticed other occasions when the OneCard issuers did not ask for any form of identification.

"They were checking (picture identifications) sometimes," she said. "There were some inconsistencies there. They weren't checking the (identification) all the time."

McElligott said she saw Mitchell in the room as Tavakoli forged McElligott's signature on the OneCard without showing any ID.

Mitchell acknowledged her mistake and said the workers should have checked identification, "especially since this is the first time we're issuing this card."

Freshman biology major Jimmy Ju said he saw many problems of mistaken identity that could result from fraudulent OneCard bearers.

"There are many potential problems," Ju said. "For example, on exams, someone could march right in and take someone else's exam."

Though security may have been lax for the 12,000 students who had received their OneCards by Thursday, officials said new identification procedures will be enforced in light of the documented failure to secure proper identification before issuance of the OneCard Thursday.

Now, the OneCard staffers who process the forms are supposed to print applicants' driver's license numbers on the forms or, if another type of identification is given, make note of the type of ID shown.

"We have taken some general disciplinary action," said Ann Lamar, executive director of Auxiliary Services, the office which supervises the OneCard operations.

"We hope that this will turn into a positive experience, that (office assistants) will understand the importance of (checking for ID)."

There is an anti-card forging measure in place. If someone has forged a OneCard, the computer will alert the student whose card was forged when that student tries to get their legitimate card.

"If someone had gotten the ID before, the computer automatically voids out the old card," Mitchell said. "Then you would need to follow up on both individuals. You re-issue the card so that it is valid."

The OneCard serves a number of on-campus functions. The card can presently be used to pay for food on campus, debiting the purchase amounts from money the cardholder pays up front when receiving the card.

The meal-plan accounts of the 2,300 campus residents are handled through the students' OneCards. Residents had to show documentation proving their residency when they received their cards.

All students will also eventually use their OneCards to check out books from university libraries. If a book is lost or overdue, the student whose name is on the card is held responsible for those charges.

"Those cards are supposed to be tied to our bank accounts," said junior University Studies major Denise Houston. "(Card issuers) ought to be a little stricter if they're going to attach the card to money."

Additional reporting by Managing Editor Camilla McElligott and Staff Writers Brenda Tavakoli and Adrees Latif.

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