College is supposed to be fun. It is a time many look back upon with smiles and fond memories. Of course, final exams and uppity professors can put a temporary cramp in an otherwise extended party. The last thing a college student wants to worry about is their identity being stolen. However, with 24% of all identity theft complaints being in the 18-29 year old age bracket, it is a reality college students need to be prepared for. Nowadays, it’s not enough to send your college freshman to school with a laptop, cell phone, books and clean clothes. A cross-cut shredder and a locking box large enough to hold a laptop, loaded with current computer security software, are equally important. These protective measures, while seemingly insignificant, are critical steps in protecting your teen’s belongings and personal identifying information.
It is also vital to arm them with information about identity theft, scams and other rip-offs they might encounter while living on their own for the first time. The following tips are helpful for college students of all ages.
For the College Student:
- Keep your Social Security card and number in a locked safe place. Do not carry it with you.
- Don’t share it with anyone without knowing why they need it. Most schools now use a student identification number instead of the Social Security number. Parents, please note: this may be one factor to consider when choosing a college.
- Store your laptop in a locking security box when you are not in the room and do not have it with you.
- Be aware and wary of the peer-to-peer file sharing programs. While they provide you the ability to exchange files, they also open you up to unauthorized access on your computer. See ITRC Fact Sheet 119 - Direct Connections to the Internet or ITRC Solution 19 – File Sharing and Peer-to-Peer Software Safety
- Social networking, while it may not appear invasive, can actually expose you to serious risks, not the least of which is identity theft. See ITRC Fact Sheet 138 – Social Networking and Identity Theft.
- Use your home address as the permanent mailing address rather than a temporary address used while in school. This will lessen the complications of multiple addresses. Dorm and apartment mailboxes are not always locked and are easily accessible by people who do not have your best interest in mind.
- Obtain and use a credit card and NOT a debit card. Credit cards may be pre-paid or have a low limit, if you so choose. Debit cards are targets for identity thieves. Check your monthly statements as they come in and look for unexplained expenses. Then place the statements in a locked file cabinet.
- Never supply a phone, in your name, to someone else, i.e., a friend or roommate. The reason they cannot get a phone is probably because they have bad credit to start in the first place. The chances of being paid back are slim.
- Never loan credit or debit cards to a friend. Again, the reason they cannot get a card is probably because they have bad credit. Co-signing for any cell phone, utility account, car loan or credit card puts you at major, unwarranted risk.
- Never loan your driver’s license or identification card to anyone. They could use it as an ID card when stopped by the police and you will be listed as the offender.
- Once you have established credit, check your credit reports annually using the www.annualcreditreport.com program. The reports are free. If you have never established credit, you will be told there is no report. If there is a report, check it out and make sure that none of the information is a result of fraudulent activity.
For the Parents:
Talk with your college-bound student about blogging, scams, and tricks con artists use to get Social Security numbers, bank account or credit account numbers and other private information including date and county of birth. Identity thieves could use this information to create a new identity or steal using the information given to them.
There isn’t much college students can do to avoid pop quizzes and term papers. However, armed with the basic knowledge above they can be prepared to prevent becoming victims of identity theft. That way they can worry about more important things… like finding a trustworthy roommate!