College is a time for kids to try on different identities and see how they fit. But as parents, it’s our job to make sure their true identity doesn’t get stolen by thieves.
Students are increasingly vulnerable to identity theft. Attacks against victims 19 years old and younger accounted for 9 percent of identity theft complaints in 2011, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Data Book. And victims between the ages of 20 and 29 represented 23 percent of all complaints for the same period.
“They’re naïve, distracted, and often living in communal settings where others can access their computer, smartphone, mail and more,” warns Adam Levin, cofounder and chairman of IDentity Theft 911 and Credit.com.
College students make desirable victims for “familiar fraud,” when identity theft is committed by someone who knows the victim—such as a roommate or friend. They move frequently, so their mail may end up at an old address or in the wrong person’s hands. They’re trusting, quick to share information, especially on social networking sites, and welcoming of new friends. In many cases, the crime doesn’t come to light until years after college when the victim is applying for a first car loan or a job that requires a credit check.
Social networking in particular can be risky for students. Thieves can piece together information about their victims through various social networks and use it to commit crimes. For example, if students link to their mother on Facebook or list their birthday or ZIP code, the thief could use that data to authenticate the student’s identity.
“That’s the pot of gold for an identity thief,” said Eduard Goodman, chief privacy officer for IDentity Theft 911. “We encourage students, in particular, to shy away from certain activities that expose sensitive personal information. Like location-based apps that display where you are or where you live, or posting spring break pictures while still on spring break, which alert thieves that you’re not home.”
Here are five identity protection tips for students:
- 1. Challenge Authority. Encourage them to say “no” to requests for personal information, except when absolutely necessary.
2. Monitor Your Credit. As soon as students establish credit by getting a student loan or credit card, for example, they should start monitoring their credit. Go to annualcreditreport.com annually for a free report.
3. Don’t Share Technology. Encourage them to update their computer security software and use strong alphanumeric passwords with combinations of special characters and capitalization for all of their online accounts and devices. If they really want to let someone else use their computer, have them set up a “guest” account.
4. Use a Crosscut Shredder. Use it for all those preapproved credit offers. Dumpster-diving is epidemic on campus because thieves know most kids just throw them away unopened.
5. Invest In a Document Safe. Lock up important papers such as student loan and enrollment documents so they won’t be left lying around where anyone could nose through them.
There are a number of helpful, free resources for students. They can check their credit score every 30 days with Credit.com’s free Credit Report Card and monitor their risk for identity theft with a free Identity Risk Score.
If you think your college student is a victim of identity theft, check with your providers—banks, credit unions, financial advisers and insurers—to see if they may provide you with free identity theft protection and document replacement services from IDentity Theft 911. Or call us directly at 1-888-682-5911.
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