Whether they're on a social networking site, applying for jobs or surfing blogs, it seems college students spend a bulk of their time online. While many students might consider themselves computer-savvy, identity thieves can exploit their online habits and behavior to commit identity theft. In fact, the 2011 Identity Fraud Survey Report from Javelin Strategy & Research found young consumers experienced the second-highest number of "friendly fraud" incidents in 2010.
Why Do Identity Thieves Target College Students?
College students are a popular target for identity thieves primarily because many remain negligent when it comes to managing their finances. Some have never checked their credit reports and scores, while others have the clean credit history identity thieves often desire. It can take a long time for college students to even notice they have been a victim of identity theft, giving identity thieves a better chance to avoid detection.
Better Online Habits Can Deter Identity Theft
At the same time, there are ways for college students to close protection gaps and safeguard their personal information when surfing the Web.
- Update security software — Malware (malicious software) can infect a computer with viruses, worms, spyware or other maladies. These harmful processes can sometimes steal a person's private data, even without their knowledge. Most malware is transmitted online, and keeping their computer updated with the latest antivirus and security software may help detect and snuff out potentially harmful programs.
- Avoid making private information public — Some college students may share too much of their private lives online. Blogs, Facebook and other social media sites have all seen incidents in which a person divulged critical information, such as their address or phone number. Practicing safe online habits and keeping this data secure may cut down on their identity theft risk.
- Keep a computer and devices secure — College students should look to ensure they're the only ones with access to their computer. Effective passwords can limit the chance that a stolen computer is mined of private data, and students should also avoid leaving their computer unattended while in public. Digital devices — such as USB drives — should also be kept close, and students should avoid plugging foreign devices into their computer. Some data-stealing viruses can actually be delivered through a USB drive.
- Scrutinize online downloads — Though students may be tempted to download free software, spyware and other malware can sometimes be hidden in these downloads. Young consumers are advised to avoid suspect downloads and stick to credible resources when buying music, e-books or programs.