The typical college student’s head is filled with thoughts of friends, parties, grades, work and more parties, which leaves little room to consider things like identity fraud. Yet, according to Identitytheft.com, college students comprise the single largest demographic of all identity theft victims, at a shocking 34%.
Since the majority of students, aged 18-24, remain uninformed or unconcerned about this issue, they don't know how to protect themselves from identity theft and are careless with their personal information. This type of carelessness cannot be afforded, especially in a college atmosphere—the unsecure living situation (like having multiple roommates), lack of access to identity theft protection services, information-sharing over social media sites (only 1 in 5 students use privacy controls), use of online banking over a shared and non-secure server—all are factors that make students particularly susceptible to identity theft.
Here are some recommended preventative measures to help protect you from identity theft on campus:
Use Anti-Virus and Security Software
A good anti-virus and security system will protect you from viruses and spyware that could intercept your personal information from within your computer or over shared WiFi networks that are common in campus settings. Once you have installed this protective software, it is good practice to run regular security scan updates on your computer each day. McAfee AntiVirus Plus is recognized as a reputable security software program that is worth the investment.
Monitor Your Account Statements
As tedious as it may sound, it is important to thoroughly comb over your monthly bank statements and look for suspicious activity. The sooner you catch a probable security breach, the less long-term damage you will feel. If you do see something out of the ordinary, contact your bank immediately. If you aren’t already signed up for mobile banking, you should consider doing so; it is a quick and convenient way to regularly track your account activity on-the-go.
Be Wary of Social Media
Social media may be a community based on sharing, but sharing too much can give identity thefts just the tidbit of information they need—an address, an email, your banks name, your mother’s maiden name—to access your personal information. You can never be too careful. If you think something you’re about to post could be valuable to an identity thief, don’t share it.
Enroll in ID Theft Protection
Every credit card holder should enroll in some type of Identity Theft Protection Service, which monitors your card activity for suspicious transactions or account activity. You can also sign up for alerts with your bank provider, so that you will receive instant notifications directly in your email inbox or on your smartphone.
Send Important Mail to a Permanent Address
Schools often send your important documents—like academic records or tuition payment information—through standard mail delivery services, but school mail boxes are not always secure and can be easily accessed by unauthorized individuals. If a paperless, online option is not available (e.g. online bank statements), arrange for any mail containing sensitive material—such as financial or medical information—to be sent to a secure, trusted location, like your parent’s house or a post office box.
Securely Store Sensitive Documents
Keep all important documents—Social Security card, passport, medical files, bank statements—in a secure lock box. Instead of throwing away old credit card bills and other financial statements containing confidential data, shred any paper documents that you don’t want someone else getting a hold of. Dumpster diving, the act of digging through someone’s old trash to find valuable discarded items, is a common strategy used by identity thefts.
Check Credit Report Annually
As a consumer, you are allowed one free credit report a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. This is a smart, economical way to catch any errors or unauthorized activity. Get your free report by visiting Annualcreditreport.com.
Beware of Scams
Identity thieves are always thinking of creative ways to scam the unsuspecting college student and get their hands on your personal information. One popular scheme is called phishing, in which thieves pose as a bank or credit card company and ask for your confidential financial information, usually via email. If you are contacted by someone claiming to be from a credible business or financial service provider, make sure to reach out to your actual point of contact at that company before you respond to confirm the validity of the request. Banks, in almost every case, will not ask for your personal information over email, Twitter, text message etc. If it is indeed your financial service provider, they should already have this information on record. Click here to read more on specific common scams that target college kids.
In many cases, victims of identity theft don’t even realize what has happened until a significant amount of damage has been done, and recovering from identity theft can be difficult—often times it’s too late to do anything. Moreover, studies show that college students typically take twice as long as the average victim to realize their identity has been stolen. That's why it is incredibly important for students to attentively monitor their bank and credit card statements for unauthorized activity and to guard their personal data with the utmost caution. Following these preventative measures is the best way to ensure the safety of your personal data and stop identity theft.
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