Whether you’re an incoming freshman, sophomore, junior, senior or grad student, a college student has a lot to juggle between school, work and a social life. Fighting fraud often doesn’t make the list of priorities but it should. College students are susceptible to identity theft, however, and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) recommends that there are seven simple steps you can take to protect your identity while on campus.
Identity thieves don’t care if you’re a struggling student and don’t have a penny to your name. Sometimes all they want is to exploit your clean credit record. Your BBB reminds students to be on guard and be very protective of any and all personal information including a social security number, any credit statements or even a passport.
By establishing good habits for monitoring and detecting fraud, you are laying a path for healthy financial practices for the rest of your lives.
According to Javelin Strategy and Research, identity theft committed against people aged 18 to 24 took the longest to detect—132 days on average—when compared to other age groups. The average cost of losses to this age group—$1,156—was roughly five times more than amount lost by other age groups.
Your BBB recommends that college-bound students take the following seven steps to fight identity theft on campus:
If you suspect that you have become a victim of Identity Theft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that you take immediate action.
- Remember: school mailboxes are not always secure. They can often be accessed easily in a dorm or apartment. To combat sticky fingers in the mailroom, have any sensitive mail sent to a permanent address, such as a parent’s home or a P.O. Box.
- Important documents should be stored under lock and key. You should never leave any important documents sitting out in plain view for anyone to see. These items include your Social Security card, passport and bank and credit card statements. Shred any paper documents that have sensitive financial information before tossing them out. Items you should shred should also include any credit card offers that come in the mail.
- Never lend your credit or debit card to anyone (even if they are a friend). Just say no if your friend wants you to cosign for a loan or financing for items like a TV.
- Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus and spyware software. Always install any updates and patches to your computer’s operating system or browser software which help keep your computer safe from any new advances by identity thieves online. Offers of Free WiFi in public places or just by logging on to an unsecured network poses real threats to your security. Scammers monitoring these unsecured sites wait for unsuspecting students to log on, providing them with personal information as applications are made for jobs or credit cards. Students who check their bank account balance or go shopping online over an unsecure network are also at risk of identity theft.
- Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. Keep track of places where you’ve shopped so you can check to verify all purchases. Remember, the sooner you identify any potential fraud, the less you’ll suffer in the long run.
- Check out an unfamiliar company with your BBB first. When shopping on unfamiliar websites, you should also look for the BBB Accredited Business seal along with other trust seals; click on the seals to confirm that they are legitimate and that the site is secure.
- Check your credit report at least once a year with all three reporting bureaus for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies. You can do this for free by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com.