College Freshmen: Watch Out for Identity Theft Risk

August 20, 2018

Back-to-school season is an exciting time for college students, especially freshmen going away from home for the first time. Moving to a new city and embracing undergraduate life is a unique experience, one that can make students feel like they're taking major steps into adulthood.

Along with the new feeling of independence, however, comes a risk that freshmen may not be thinking about: identity theft. College campuses can be havens for data thieves and fraudsters. Today's students have grown up as digital natives, using smartphone apps for a host of everyday tasks and living life online. The trail of data left by an 18-year-old college freshman is a natural consequence of being young in 2018, but this information is a major target for thieves eager to commit financial fraud with stolen personal data.

It's time for students to consider their levels of risk and defend their personally identifiable information.

Campuses Beset by Data Thieves

There's more than one way to lose data at college, and thieves are willing to exploit any weakness that may present itself. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there are a few specific activities freshmen should be cautious about. One of the most common areas of fraud involves employment schemes. Students who are on the lookout for part-time work may find individuals who claim to be offering jobs but are actually stealing personal data. Identity thieves know young job seekers have limited experience applying for positions, and disreputable parties may hand out job applications that ask for personal data, including Social Security information. The thieves can then vanish with that data, leaving students at risk of suffering ongoing financial fraud.

Applications for off-campus housing and utilities are another method that criminals use to steal data. When students fill out their information, they should be aware that they're putting themselves in danger. It's much better to go through trusted rental channels than to pursue deals offered by people who an student only vaguely knows.

These identity theft methods don't require online accounts - they're just as easy to pull off with paper applications as with digital forms. Students should learn not to trust applications that demand a lot of personal data and come from unclear sources. Whether the offers are made online or in person, they may be giving away data that leads to long-term fraud. That would be a bad introduction to a new school.

Students Must Show Caution

If there's one thread running between the many kinds of identity theft on college campuses, it's the assumption that students will blunder into the snares set for them. Criminals are ready to take advantage of youth and lack of experience, making students unwitting accomplices in giving away their own personally identifying information. Students should counteract this assumption by becoming highly aware of their potential to lose data.

Consumer Reports recently rounded up some helpful tips and rules for students to keep in mind as they begin their new academic careers. While no list of best practices can be truly complete, starting with a few solid guidelines can get freshmen off to a great start and help them avoid some of the most prominent and dangerous identity theft methods.

For example, students should avoid public Wi-Fi networks when it's time to make payments or enter personally identifiable information into a web form. Hackers invade unprotected connections - or set up their own fraudulent ones - and intercept vital data. Colleges aren't the only places where these attacks flourish. They're also commonly used to steal login credentials from guests at hotels and people passing through busy public spaces.

Meredith Krisher, the security and process improvement manager at Ohio State Student Life Technology Services, told Consumer Reports students may be putting their own data at risk when they don't think hard enough about what they post on social media. When individuals post too many details about their lives on networks such as Facebook or Snapchat, they could give hackers the information they need to answer password-resetting security questions. These students could end up losing control of accounts, potentially ones tied to their finances.

Many pupils also don't enable safeguards on their mobile devices, and this is another critical mistake. An unattended phone, tablet or laptop computer could give thieves a treasure trove of personal data, from web login information to financial details. A physical device theft could quickly turn into a large-scale data breach.

Protect Data Now Or Regret It Later

While students coming to terms with their exciting and new on-campus living arrangements may not want to give time and attention to data risk, a failure to consider the potential for identity theft may lead to long-term consequences. Once identity data is shared among criminals, it can take on a life of its own as its shared many times and used for financial fraud. Protecting data in any way possible is, therefore, a small effort that can prevent long-term headaches.

Parents can help protect their kids' data by purchasing third-party tools that monitor information and financial accounts and alert owners of any suspicious activity. In fact, protective systems should be in place even before children become old enough to open their own bank accounts. It's common for criminals today to steal minors' Social Security numbers, using these untainted credentials to build patchwork fraudulent identities.

Growing up means taking on new responsibilities and acting independently, including being more careful about the potential for data loss. Plenty of criminals make a habit of targeting schools in the hope they'll be able to take information from careless students. By being ready to foil these plans, college freshmen can improve their chances of having a fun school year.

Families also need better options to help protect themselves. Get protected today with Identity Guard. By leveraging IBM Watson techonology, Identity Guard is bringing state-of-the-art identity theft protection straight to you.

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