College students are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because of their unique circumstances: they often live in close quarters and are highly connected online.
Dorm rooms tend to be easily accessible, and even if they have the highest security available, college students do not often use lock boxes or safes. Checkbooks, credit card statements and other documents with personal information are usually kept in desk drawers and important papers are negligently thrown away.
The online presence of young adults also exacerbates the problem. Most college-aged students do not take adequate precautions online and are more inclined to share personal information on social media.
Here are a few steps college students should take to protect their identity.
- Store important financial and medical documents in locked containers, out of sight. If possible, invest in a safety deposit at a bank.
- Shred documents that will be thrown out, such as credit card offers or old mail, through a cross-shredder.
- Keep dorm room doors locked at all times, and ask roommates to do the same.
- Never loan anyone your credit or debit card.
- Check credit, debit and bank statements regularly.
- Invest in a credit monitoring service that can alert you to certain activity on your credit files.
- Use strong passwords to secure smartphones and tablets. Each device should have a unique password or passcode.
- Turn off Bluetooth and Near Field Communication when not in use to prevent surreptitious access to your device.
- Use encryption software to protect information on phones and laptops.
- Install anti-virus and anti-malware software on all devices, especially computers.
- Adjust privacy settings on social media sites and avoid friending or following people you don’t know.
- Understand the privacy policies of websites before joining — what information do they need and who do they share it with?
- Never supply personal or identifying information, such as addresses or Social Security numbers, online.
- Don’t use a college’s unsecured Wi-Fi connection to do shopping or conduct any other financial transaction.
- If the student mailboxes on campus are not relatively secure, consider having mail sent to a parent’s home.
The life of a college student can be exceptionally busy, so it can be helpful to enroll in identity theft protection service. These businesses can monitor credit and public records for certain activity that may indicate fraud and send alerts if and when something is found.
While it is especially important for college students to be aware of and follow these tips, they are also excellent advice for the rest of us. Anyone can become a victim of id theft, which is why it’s important to remain vigilant at all times.