The Many Faces of Identity Theft
Did you know that college graduates are more likely to be victims of identity theft than their non-degree peers? Or, that the average identity theft victim's average annual income is over $30,000?
Despite the fact that most recent college graduates and current students think they have very little to rob - outside of an outstanding student loan bill and credit card debt - they are actually prime targets for identity theft.
College students’ birth dates, Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and contact information end up on massive stacks of paper throughout the college application and enrollment process. Many students’ SSNs also end up being linked to their grades, financial aid and health forms. Add in the heavy use of social media and these situations incite a hot bed of activity for tech-savvy, desperate identity thieves.
Arm Yourself with Knowledge
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the average victim of identity theft is unaware of the problem for 12 months. This could be a problem since almost a third of college students fail to reconcile their bank accounts or credit card accounts on a regular basis, so they don’t catch signs of fraud until it’s too late.
So it’s a good idea for college students and graduates to protect their identity, and securing their credit, by getting a credit freeze (go to ConsumersUnion.org for more information). In most cases, a credit freeze prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. This also makes your Social Security number useless to a potential identity thief.
College students and recent graduates can also avoid becoming victimized by becoming proactive - know what’s out there, and what to avoid.
Criminals have been taking advantage of increasing unemployment rates by tricking desperate recent college graduates heavily engaged in the job search. Often, fake job listings and “work-at-home” scams end with the job seeker being asked to provide a Social Security Number. Best rule of thumb? Learn how to spot a job scam, and never provide any personal identification information (outside of your resume) until signing a contract, or new-hire forms for the HR department.
New Generation of ID Thieves
There has been an increase in criminals, without a criminal history, who have begun to explore identity theft for the “quick money” to be made with identity theft. This new batch of ID thieves take advantage of “low tech” methods, such as stealing credit card numbers, dumpster diving, making phone calls, or phishing for credit card numbers. This also includes placing ads in auctions, and Craigslist for phantom "for sale" products to get either credit card numbers or cash. Be proactive by shredding all account documentation, and always remain cautious with any information you give out over the phone, Internet or email. It is also a good idea to not click on any suspicious links, even if the email supposedly comes from a known contact.
Many desperate identity thieves have turned to “all-in-the-family” cases, as well as usage of numbers belonging to close friends, roommates and co-workers. Once again it is essential to regularly check your credit record.
Medical Identity Theft
The Social Security Administration has noted an increase in uninsured people using the coverage of a friend, relative or even a stranger to get medical care. High COBRA premiums, growing individual medical insurance costs, and the inability to afford insurance or medical care, has caused a spike in this area of identity theft. It is a good idea to double-check your billing statements to ensure your information hasn't been used by another.
Insider Identity Theft
This “intimate” type of workplace theft is due to the failure to follow security protocols, and has created opportunities for thieves to gain access to personal identification information retained in databases, or hard copy files. The combination of lacking security measures, and the increasing skill levels of hackers, has led to larger and more financially harmful breaches as the current crop of thieves are educating young proteges on high tech methods to accessing “secured” information.
Social Media Identity Theft
The rise in social media has also created a launching pad for identity thieves. Social media identity theft happens when someone hacks an account via phishing, creates infected short URLs or creates a page using photos and the victims identifying information. This is often a result of a user’s failure to implement security and privacy settings and protocols, and leads to an increased exposure of not only the user’s personal information but possibly that of their friends. Just as in the “real” world, cautiousness remains king when using social media. Avoid posting, or giving out personal identification information (including phone numbers) on social media sites, as well as keeping a good eye on friend requests.
Know What to Look For
Day-to-day activities often open up new opportunities for identity thieves. Staying proactive, and cautious, with your daily habits will help eliminate potential fraud. Just as Ben Franklin says “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
- Shoulder Surfing: Criminals often engage in "shoulder surfing" in public places. They will watch you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or credit card number, or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit card number over the telephone to a hotel or rental car company.
- Dumpster Diving: Some criminals will go through garbage cans, communal dumpsters or trash bins to obtain copies of checks, credit cards, bank statements, or other records that typically bear your name, address, and even your telephone number. These types of records make it easier for criminals to get control over accounts in your name and assume your identity.
- You’re "Pre Approved": If you receive applications for "pre approved" credit cards in the mail, but discard them without tearing up the enclosed materials, criminals will retrieve them and try to activate the cards for their use without your knowledge.
Do you have additional tips on how to avoid identity theft? Love to hear them!!
Sunny Shakula is a copywriter, seasoned freelance journalist, and marketing professional with 10 years of industry experience under her belt. She holds B.A.s in Journalism and English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as training in graphic and interior design. Today, Sunny focuses on eco-friendly life and money management advice; her passion for design and eco-commerce extends to her own business, inside, whose motto is "Re-Purpose with a Purpose." Her forthcoming book, Cheap.Fun.Delicious, dishes on everything from eco-friendly cocktails to DIY interior design.
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