The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network database also has some startling numbers regarding identity theft in college-aged adults. The database found that 39,335 consumers between the ages of 20 and 29 fell victim to identity theft in 2013, and made up a surprising 20 percent of the total number of identity theft complaints reported that year. These statistics make the 20 to 29-year-old demographic the largest 10-year age range afflicted by identity thieves.
Weisman suggests that there are two reasons college students are more vulnerable than other adult populations: “They live in close quarters and they do not take enough precautions. […] Identity theft can be high tech, low tech or no tech. College students are vulnerable on their computers, smartphones and tablets. They are vulnerable in their dorm rooms. They are vulnerable in their mail and personal papers. They are vulnerable on Facebook and other social media.”
Most college students consider identity theft an abstract problem — something that happens, but not to them. With the increasing media coverage of large data breaches, and more cases cropping up every few weeks, data breach apathy is also playing a part in how college students and college-aged adults aren’t taking identity theft seriously enough. The more common data breaches seem to become, the less threatening they seem.
Identity theft isn’t going anywhere, and criminals aren’t going to stop targeting college students just because they’ve been hearing about data breaches too often. For this reason it is essential that college students take identity theft protection seriously. Here are a few tips:
- Store important documents under lock and key: Documents such as passports, Social Security cards, bank and credit statements and health insurance papers should be stored carefully, in a locked room. If you have roommates or tend to leave your dorm room unlocked, invest in a small safe or a bank safety deposit box to store sensitive documents.
- Never lend your credit card to anyone: This applies to both friends or family. Your credit and debit cards should always remain in your possession. Do not share credit card numbers with anyone either.
- Have things mailed home: If your campus mailbox isn’t secure or can be easily accessed by anyone, have sensitive mail sent to your parents’ home. Another option is to use a post office box.
- Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software updated: Computers, tablets and smartphones should all be outfitted with the most up-to-date virus and malware protection available.
- Sign up for credit monitoring services: These services can alert you when certain activity occurs in your credit files that may indicate fraud. Most college students are just beginning to build their credit histories, so it’s important to make sure that your credit doesn’t take a hit due to identity theft.
Students should also take care to exercise security in other ways to avoid having their items physically stolen, which can also lead to identity theft. Do not walk alone late at night on campus, keep your dorm room locked when you are away and don’t leave your things unsupervised.