These days, it may not be enough to send your high school graduate off to start school or tackle a new job 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. Learn these 9 tips to help your high school student or graduate better protect their identity and finances.
Big Life Changes May Mean Big Risk for Identity Theft and Scams
Many students and young people think that identity theft won’t necessarily affect them, since they may not have a lot of financial assets or great credit scores. But identity theft isn’t just about stealing money—it’s about stealing personal or financial information to try to open credit card accounts, secure a loan, or commit other fraudulent acts in the victim’s name.
The reality is that 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 out on their own, filling out background checks to sign a lease or activate utilities, or applying for jobs and completing college applications.
Financial Scams Abound on College Campuses
According to the ITRC, there are several ways that scammers target young people, and many of those tactics go hand-in-hand with students heading off to college.
College students may be vulnerable to a myriad of scams, including scholarship and financial aid scams, employment scams, imposter scams in which fraudsters pretend to be a school official or work for another trusted organization, student loan debt relief scams, or even scams related to non-existent apartments or textbooks.
9 Tips to Help Better Protect Your Teenager or Young Adult
- Be cautious with Social Security numbers – Advise your child to consider keeping his or her Social Security card in a locked, safe place, rather than carrying it. Also, they should be thoughtful about with whom they share their Social Security number. For example, some financial institutions let account holders provide an identifier other than a Social Security number when accessing or opening an account. In addition, most schools now use a student identification number instead of a Social Security number.
- Keep a permanent address for important mail – It may be best to avoid mailing important documents to a dorm or apartment where the mailbox may not be secure. Instead, young people should consider using a parent or relative’s address or getting a post office box.
- Don’t loan identification, credit or debit cards, or signatures - As difficult as it can be to say “no” to a friend when they are in need, remind your child that loaning out their ID or credit cards, or co-signing for any cell phone, utility account, car loan or credit card could put them at unwarranted risk.
- Sort and shred mail and documents – Instead of letting mail pile up where others can easily access it, consider buying them a shredder, and advising them to shred all important documents, such as bank statements, credit card offers, and anything that contains an account number or Social Security number.
- Secure laptops and other devices – Discuss how to safely store laptops and other devices in a locking storage box if they are left unattended in dorm room or apartment. It’s also a good idea to log out of secure sites, such as online banking sites, and check that web browsers aren’t automatically saving login and password combinations for sensitive sites.
- Be cautious when sharing on social media – Young people who are comfortable sharing details about their lives on social media sites may post a lot of personal details over time. Advise your child to remember that scammers may be able to mine social media networks for information that could help them answer account security questions and hack into various sites.
- Surf and shop wisely – Train your child to always look for the “https” and padlock icon on websites, as sites that don’t use proper encryption may make them an easier target for thieves. Advise them to avoid making any payments on public WiFi, as these networks may not be secure.
- Learn to spot phishing emails – Teach young people to be wary of emails that “phish” for information. Phishing emails and texts often try to get victims to click to what appears to be a legitimate site but is actually a website controlled by cybercriminals where personal information may be recorded.
- Check credit reports – Once a young person has established credit, advise them to check their credit reports with the three nationwide credit bureaus at least annually. They may not have a report yet if they have never established credit. If there is a credit report in their name, they should review it to make sure that none of the information is a result of fraudulent activity. If they find suspicious activity, the FTC recommends informing the organizations where fraud occurred about the potential identity theft and placing fraud alerts, so lenders will be encouraged to take extra steps to confirm your identity before opening new credit. They 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 their name.
What Parents Need to Know From Birth to Teenage Years
For more ways to help better protect children in other stages, including infants, teenagers, and young adults starting out on their own, download the white paper, “Child Identity Theft: What Parents Need to Know From Birth to Teenage Years.”
How to Report a Suspected Problem
- If you believe you or your child has been the victim of identity theft, report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov.
- If you believe your child’s school or district has acted inappropriately with his or her data, file a written complaint with the US Department of Education.
- If you believe a website collected information from your child or marketed to them in a way that violates the law, report it to the FTC at the FTC Complaint Assistant.
- If you believe you have been a victim of tax identity theft, refer to the IRS fact sheet for taxpayers for more information.
- If you or your child sees offensive online content or other criminal behavior, document the activity and report the issue to local law enforcement or the local office of the FBI.
- If you suspect an online predator, report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline.