9 Investigates sales of student records



ORLANDO, Fla. - A two-month 9 Investigates probe uncovered just how easy it is for someone to get your child's personal information.

Whether it's a credit card company, a college or an individual, they can easily purchase school student lists and solicit your child through the mail, and it's all legal.

Channel 9's Christopher Heath combed through nearly 1,000 pages of documents, finding names and addresses for central Florida students; all information that is readily for sale.

If you're a parent with a high school-age student or a student yourself, you've probably seen it: Day after day, more and more mail arrives.

The letters specifically target high school juniors and seniors, and they peddle college information, student loans, class rings and more.

"It seems like every time she is involved in something, it's a new batch of things," said Chris Hendren, a local father referring to the mail his home receives.

Hendren's daughter is 17, and Heath found her name on thick list of Florida students, a list that anyone can download off the Internet.

"That people can just buy and sell your information, it just doesn't make sense," Hendren said.

Some students have a slightly different response: They're alarmed and caught off guard.

"That's really scary," said Hirsto Koussev, a high school senior who was also located through the list of students 9 Investigates obtained.

"I feel that my privacy has been violated," Koussev said.

For about $500, 9 Investigates was able to purchase thousands of names and addresses. All that data, Heath discovered, was mined from after-school clubs, testing agencies and even IRS filings.

All the information is easy to access and even easier to sell.

"When you are talking high school seniors, you are talking diminished rights," said attorney Michael Gibson.

The distinction is in the fact that it is just directory information, only names, addresses and grade levels.

Students can request that such information not be disclosed, but every group joined by a student opens up another possible avenue for his or her information to be collected, sold and then used for marketing purposes.

"Directory type of information is available because it is otherwise available," Gibson explained.

Under the Federal Education Records and Privacy Act, schools must ask permission to release such information, but federal and state laws do not cover other student organizations and clubs.

Some companies are more than willing to buy that information and, in turn, sell the data.

"It's just scary to know that strangers know this," Koussev said.

Experts advise parents and students to always read signup forms closely to make sure school-related groups will not distribute student information. And, while it is not against the law to sell directory information, you can request that your information be kept private.