It’s finally back-to-school time for many college students. And, in addition to stocking up on the usual packs of Cup Noodles soup and red solo cups (ahem, I mean spiral notebooks and graphing calculators), this year, students are urged to bring along a not-so-cheerful companion: Caution.
Identity theft is now a very real threat to college students.
It happens all too often, in gaming companies, international banks, and now, universities. In December of 2008, for example, UCLA reported that hackers accessed the school’s database. Hackers were able to view the personal information of about 800,000 current and former students and staff.
“Identity thieves don’t care if you’re a struggling student and don’t have a penny to your name,” the Better Business Bureau said in a statement. “Sometimes all they want is to exploit your clean credit record. By establishing good habits for monitoring and detecting fraud, students can lay a path for healthy financial practices for the rest of their lives.”
Why are students such easy targets? According to the U.S. Department of Education, half of all college students receive credit card applications on a daily or weekly basis. Many have their attention caught by free t-shirt-with-application offers, or promotional gigs like “Apply for this credit card, and that Nissan Altima might be yours!”
With the mountains of school work drafted by most university professors and Thirsty Thursdays coming around, well, basically every Thursday, checking for high credit scores often becomes put on the back burner. This leaves the perfect recipe for disaster. In fact, The Federal Trade Commission recently discovered that 31 percent of identity-theft victims fall into the 18-29 age group.
College kids are good at three things – getting term paper extensions, eating monotonous campus food for months, and sleeping in ‘til 3 p.m. Luckily, there’s room for a fourth: Protecting their identities. Here are five tips for how students returning to campus can better protect themselves against identity thieves and manipulators:
- Don’t leave personal papers lying around. Yes, dorm rooms are made to perfectly fit a mess. But that’s no reason to have copies of your bank statements lying next to the cheese fries on your desk. Make sure you store sensitive records either in a safe place. And, if these documents need to be discarded, shred them first. Few things are as fun as bank-statement-confetti.
- Only give out your full nine-digit Social Security number when absolutely necessary. And, if you’re on the phone with a credit card company, or someone who may need to verify it, be sure to migrate away from the super loud Rugby table so you don’t have to shout your secret digits.
- Do not carry Social Security cards around. I assure you, no Residential Assistant, Math Professor, or club bouncer should ever ask you for it. Also remove any excess credit cards and checks from your wallet. When moving about the campus, especially after 3 a.m. study group meets, you don’t need these things with you.
- Limit the personal information you display on social networking sites. Yes, Facebook is an addiction. But how much do you really want strangers to know about you? Remember, once it’s up on the internet, it’s staying there. Also, be sure to increase privacy settings to limit who can actually access your profile.
- Strengthen all of your passwords (social networking sites, emails, and yes even Blackboard) by using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. When online, only enter personal or financial information on secure sites. These are designated in the address bar by a padlock symbol and an “s” after the “http.”