If you know any college students or are one yourself, take advantage of this inside look at identity theft – and make sure to pass it on.
College opens minds to new ideas, doors to new opportunities and (unfortunately) eyes to issues often overlooked: experiencing identity theft and fraud. The 20 to 29 age group is most affected by identity theft, representing 20 percent of victims according to a 2014 Federal Trade Commission report.
Students deserve fulfilling academic experiences without having to struggle with identity crimes. As students embark on their first journey living away from home, it’s critical to know how to avoid becoming a target for identity thieves.
Here are six common scenarios that make college life prime time for identity crime and common-sense ways for college students to handle them:
Scenario #1: Living with roommates (particularly unfamiliar ones)
Whenever people share a dwelling, there is an increased chance that sensitive information could be seen (and pilfered) by others. Even knowing and trusting a roommate doesn’t guarantee information is secure. There is also a good chance a roommate will invite unfamiliar guests.
Keep personal and financial data in a secure place. Don’t leave a wallet or mail out in the open, and store paperwork and vital documents in a locked file cabinet or box.
Scenario #2: Sharing digital devices
Whether it’s community computers on campus or a personal device, these digital interfaces involve abundant data exchange, often including sensitive data.
Don’t log into personal accounts from public workstations, and be sure to password-protect personal computers, tablets and phones. This makes it easier for identity thieves to access email and other personal accounts, which could lead to misuse of an account or stolen information to create a fraudulent account.
Scenario #3: Tossing mail without shredding it first
Invoices, letters, loan or credit offers and other mail can put personal information at risk.
Mail theft and dumpster diving continue to pose an identity threat., Be sure to shred documents containing sensitive data (name, address, account numbers, Social Security number, etc.) before throwing unwanted mail in the trash. A cross-shredder is best.
Scenario #4: Using unsecure Wi-Fi
Internet access is so readily available, it’s easy to take it for granted. You may not even realize how many Wi-Fi networks you encounter in a given day. Some are secure, while others are not. As you go about your day, you could pass through dozens of Wi-Fi networks.
It’s up to you to be sure that you are connected to password-protected Wi-Fi each time you go online. This is particularly important when using any portable devices.
Scenario #5: Sharing passwords or access codes
Certainly, college students know better than to give out personal passwords or access codes. A LastPass survey found that 73 percent of Americans acknowledge such sharing is risky. Yet, 95 percent share at least six of these keys to their various accounts.
Keep passwords to yourself. No matter how convenient it may seem to share them, this is a dangerous practice that too often leads to stolen information.
Scenario #6: Private conversations in public
As a busy college student, making phone calls in between classes, at restaurants and other community spaces seems like an everyday activity. But what about when calling a financial institution, loan service, medical office or any place that needs to collect or verify personal information?
Whenever sensitive data is being shared, make sure it is communicated out of earshot from others. Simply put, don’t hold these conversations in public. There is always a chance someone could overhear and even record a private conversation.
These are simple steps that anyone can take to protect personal information — even the most overwhelmed college student. It’s also just as easy to invite these risks if not taken seriously. Use this primer as an important reminder that identity thieves prey on the unsuspecting. Follow these tips to keep identity theft out of the college experience.