Preventing Identity Theft as a College Student
According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, college students make easy targets. Statistics show nearly a quarter of all identity theft complaints are made by people aged 18 to 29 years old.
Welcome to the world of technology, where email scams, credit card skimmers, and telephone scams present new ways to fall prey to thieves.
Scammers have found plenty of opportunities to rob college students of their identities. Some may find a quick, sudden opportunity to commit identity theft, perhaps by snatching a credit card lying around in a dorm room or by finding personal information on a cell phone, computer or tablet that was left unguarded.
That presents a modern problem for parents sending their children to school: aside from the everyday essentials, students now must consider whether to buy a paper shredder or student software that might protect their computer from fraud, or if they should keep a dorm safe to store valuable information.
Experts say college students are easy targets for thieves because they don't keep track of their credit history. In fact, most know nothing about credit reporting agencies or that they can receive an annual free credit report.
Parents often warn students about identity theft or other rip-offs they could face, but studies show most students ignore what they are told or forget how to prevent identity theft.
"Identity thieves don't steal your money; they steal your name and reputation and use them for their own financial gain," says the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General. "They attempt to steal your future! Identity theft literally steals who you are, and it can seriously jeopardize your financial future."
Don't ignore the threat. When your identity is stolen, the damage that’s done will be left up to you to fix. Having a strong credit rating and a clean record is essential for your future self.
It's quite easy for college students to fall victim to a credit card scam or other form of identity theft, and once you do, it could take years to recover.
How does identity theft happen to college students?
• According to the U.S. Department of Education, half of all students have their grades posted by Social Security Number.
* Many cases of identity theft among college students occur because of communal living, which invites others to steal student data or information.
• Social media security – or a lack thereof – also provides thieves a chance to steal students' information.
• Dozens of data breaches targeting university or college institutions are reported each year and can lead to identity theft from college students.
• Although half of college students receive frequent offers of credit cards in the mail on a weekly basis, many toss the mail into a trash can without shredding the information.
• Using your computer for online banking or bill-paying, or to buy concert tickets, clothes, books or other merchandise can expose you to identity theft.
"Each of these routine actions places you at risk of being a victim of identity theft because each of these transaction requires you to share personal information such as your bank and credit card account numbers, your Social Security number, or your name, address, and phone number," according to the U.S. Department of Education. "This is the same personal information that identity thieves use to commit fraud."
Preventing identity theft takes quick action and continuing efforts.
Check out the most comprehensive prevention guide for college students, " 51 Simple Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While in College," for tips on keeping your credit in good standing and preventing thieves from taking your identity.
The guide is the ultimate source of information related to preventing identity theft in college, and includes tips on how to safely use public computers, when and where to use public Wi-Fi or unsecured Wi-Fi, how to avoid computer viruses by using the proper software, how to avoid spam, and how to stay away from telephone scams by signing up for the National Do Not Call List.
Some tips to prevent identity theft
· Stay safe by memorizing your Social Security Number and passwords, rather than writing them down or carrying them in a wallet, purse, phone, or anywhere else. The U.S. Department of Education also warns against using your birthdate as a password.
· Use a paper shredder to rip up those "pre-approved credit applications" or other financial documents you might have. Don't toss your personal information in the trash or leave it for someone else to find, even those you trust.
· "Don’t trust the dorm room," Consumer Reports recommends. "Your dorm room is your home away from home, so it’s natural to feel relaxed and let your guard down. However, dorm rooms are notoriously open to many people, some of whom have no qualms about rifling your papers for personal information such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers or Social Security numbers."
· Learn how to get your credit report. Several credit reporting agencies are available to offer you this service, and the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act allows you one free look every year. You can get a credit report by visiting https://www.annualcreditreport.com.
· Use a firewall program on your computer and avoid email scams, viruses, Trojan Horses and other threats by deleting questionable emails and staying away from websites or links that could be dangerous.
· Don't fall for phone or email scams. If someone calls and asks for your Social Security Number, full name, birth date, a checking account number, or any other personal data, verify the source. Experts suggest never providing such information over the phone or Internet unless you have initiated the contact.
· If someone steals your credit card – or even if you misplace it – report it immediately. Contact your banking institution so they can monitor the transactions and stop thieves from unauthorized purchases, which could ruin your credit score.
· Use strong passwords for your computer, smartphone, tablet and other devices. It's also important to frequently change your password, and to never share it with anyone else.
· And when using social media, think before you act.
What to do if you’re identity is stolen
It's important to report the theft. You can start by speaking with campus security or a campus police department, if available. Otherwise, contact the nearest police department where your college is located.
File a police report. You'll want to tell officers if you know who might have taken your personal information; when and where it happened; and any other details that might be important.
Log on to www.identitytheft.gov to report your identity theft with the Federal Trade Commission, which can provide you with an important affidavit. The affidavit might be needed by credit reporting agencies or banks, who will need to help you straighten out any issues that arise in your finances.
College is great time for young adults to grow and find themselves. For most you, it will be the best time of your lives. Don’t let the excitement of college life fade at the hands of criminals.
It's your identity, please keep it that way.