If you’re a college student, an upcoming freshman, or an anxious college parent, you’re probably still enjoying your summer before it’s time to pack for school. But the semester will begin before you know it, and it’s important to start thinking about the ways you need to prepare. After you’ve signed up for classes, purchased your books and finalized housing plans, spend a moment or two thinking about the risk of identity theft when students get back to campus.
The rapidly-growing crime rate of identity theft affects the whole population, and college-age individuals may face some of the highest risks. In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission reported that those between the ages of 20-29 were some of the most frequent victims, accounting for about 18 percent of all identity theft complaints.
Why college students?
There are a number of factors at play. Many people at that age are still new to the idea of managing their own finances, and may not be aware of important security measures they should take. In addition, Consumer Reports noted that living in close quarters with unknown individuals can increase the risk of theft. Also, many members of this age group tend to spend a significant amount of time online, using the Wi-Fi at provided by their college or university. Security issues within these systems could leave students quite vulnerable to hacking.
Identity theft is a serious matter no matter how old you are, but it’s definitely a problem when you’re young and just getting a foothold on your career. Poor credit makes it far more difficult to buy a car or rent an apartment. Some employers may even conduct credit checks during the hiring process, putting identity theft victims at an additional disadvantage.
Here are some basic steps you can take to protect yourself from ID theft on campus, whether you are a new or returning student:
- Keep your dorm secure. If you have roommates, then your home isn’t your castle, regardless of how much you wish it were so. It’s important to secure important financial documents and other identifiers in a locked safe when you do not need to reference them. Also be sure to secure your electronic devices with strong passwords. Even if you trust your roommates not to steal from you, many dorms are full of people coming and going at all hours. Do you know, or trust, all of them?
- Don’t friend everyone on social media – and don’t overshare. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with all of your friends and arrange events. But be warned: sharing too much information publicly may come back to bite you in the end. Try to be discrete about what you post, and monitor how many social media friends you collect. You might not want everyone to see your personal information.
- Shred credit card offers. Once you’re over the age of 18, you’ll start getting more credit card offers than you can count. You may choose to take advantage of one or two, but you’ll likely throw the vast majority out. Just be sure to shred the documents first, rather than tossing them intact in to the trash where anyone could find them. These documents could contain sensitive information.
College students might not be used to the idea of regularly monitoring their accounts and credit, but it’s important to do so. An identity theft protection service Identity Guard can help by monitoring credit files, Social Security Numbers and public records. Our service will alert you to certain activity that could be indicative of fraud, allowing you to take action.