These days, it may not enough to send your college freshman off to school with new clothes, a set of twin sheets, and a shower caddy. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) says it’s equally as important to arm them with a cross-cut shredder, a locking storage box, and knowledge about identity theft and other scams that they may encounter while living on their own for the first time.
Why Would College Students Be a Target for Identity Theft?
Many college students may think that identity theft won’t necessarily affect them. Students aren’t usually known for having a lot of money or great credit scores. What could possibly be attractive to an identity thief? But the truth is that identity theft isn’t just about stealing money or other financial assets–it’s about stealing personal or financial information and using those details to try to open credit card accounts, secure a loan, or commit other fraudulent acts.
In fact, students can be a target for identity theft. During this transitional time, their identifying information may be in a lot of different places, because of life changes, such as moving into a dorm or apartment, filling out background checks to sign a lease or activate utilities, or applying for colleges or employment. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes that 20 percent of identity theft incidents reported in its Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book in 2018 were committed against victims ages 29 and under.
Recent Graduates and College Students: Consider These Steps to Help Better Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
- Be Cautious With Your Social Security Number – Rather than carrying your Social Security card with you, consider keeping it in a locked, safe place. Also, be thoughtful about whom you share your Social Security number with. You may be able to provide an identifier other than a Social Security number when you have to access or open an account. In addition, most schools now use a student identification number instead of a Social Security number.
- Use a Parent’s Address or P.O. Box for Important Mail – It may be best to avoid mailing important documents to a dorm or apartment where your mailbox may not be secure. Instead, consider using a parent or relative’s address or getting a post office box.
- Sort and Shred Mail and Documents – Instead of letting mail pile up where others can easily access it, consider getting a shredder, and shred all important documents, such as bank statements, credit card offers, and anything that contains an account number or Social Security number. Make sure any items you throw away—including prescription drug containers—do not contain personal information.
- Secure Your Laptop and Other Devices – Consider storing your laptop and other devices in a locking storage box if you leave them in your dorm room or apartment. It’s a good idea to log out of secure sites, such as online banking, and make sure your web browser doesn’t automatically save login and password combinations for sensitive sites.
- Surf and Shop Wisely – Look for the “https” and padlock icon on websites, as websites that don’t use proper encryption may make you an easier target for thieves. Avoid making payments on public WiFi, as these networks may not be secure.
- Use Stronger Passwords – Consider creating stronger passwords, such as a ”passphrase” that would be difficult for hackers to guess, and use different passwords for different accounts. You may want to use a secure password manager or memorize your username and password combinations rather than storing them on your computer.
- Be Cautious When Sharing on Social Media – Students who are comfortable sharing details about their lives on social media sites may post a lot of personal details over time. Keep in mind that fraudsters may be able to mine social media posts for information that could help them get past account security questions and allow them to hack into various sites.
- Learn to Spot Phishing Emails – Be wary of emails that “phish” for information. Phishing emails and texts often try to get you to click to what looks like a legitimate site but is actually a website controlled by cybercriminals where your personal information may be recorded. Read: Smishing 101: Steps to Help Better Detect and Avoid Text Message Scams
- Check Your Credit Reports – Once you have established credit, check your credit reports with the three nationwide credit bureaus at least annually. If you have never established credit, you may not have a report yet. If there is a credit report in your name, review it to make sure that none of the information is a result of fraudulent activity. If you find suspicious activity, the FTC recommends informing the organizations where fraud occurred about the potential identity theft and placing fraud alerts on your credit reports so lenders will be encouraged to take extra steps to confirm your identity before opening new credit. You might also consider placing a security freeze which could provide additional protection against unauthorized access to help better protect against identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
If you believe you or one of your family members have been a victim of identity theft, report it to the FTC at https://identitytheft.gov/.