(WJBK) - According to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, the highest percentage of identity theft victims were age 20-29. College students are five times more likely to be a victim of identity theft than the general public.
Identity theft can be high tech, low tech or no tech. College students are vulnerable in their dorm rooms, on computers, phones and tablets as well as on campus.
Here's some tips on how college students can set themselves up with a good defense:
In The Dorm: Dorm rooms are notoriously open spaces that are available to many people. Access to a blank check, a credit card bill or Financial Aid Application can provide scam artists with enough information to take on your identity.
- Pack a lock box. A great place to store your laptop, tablets and identifying documents (like your Social Security card, passport, etc) in a safe place.
- Shred Papers. Make sure to destroy any old papers containing personal information such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers, Social Security number. All these should be shredded.
- Be wary of school computer networks. Peer-to-peer file sharing programs and unsecure WiFi networks can leave your computer vulnerable to hackers. Makes sure you use up-to-date computer security software and install updates often.
On Campus: The point is to remember that small bits of information can be accessed, combined and used to create a credit profile with your name on it.
- Avoid credit card sign-up booths on campus and use that trusty shredder from #1 to shred any offers mailed to you. Filling out all the info to get a credit card in the middle of the campus center? Not the most secure method, so skip it. If you want to open a credit card, do your research and open one from a reputable company. If you find a good one, you can use your credit card instead of your debit card for extra layers of fraud protection.
- Be aware of your surroundings. For your safety in general, take note of what is going on around you. This is true of protecting your identity as well. Being distracted can create opportunities for thieves to steal from you, whether it's your debit card or, 'shoulder surfing' when you're checking your bank account at the library. 'Shoulder surfing' is when someone snaps a photo of your account over your shoulder when you're not paying attention.
- Make sure your student ID number isn't your Social Security number. If it is, request to have it changed.
Online: Whenever you post your personal information on the internet, you're making yourself just a little bit more vulnerable to identity theft.
- Be careful what you share on social media. Oversharing on personal location, including personal details about you (birthday, name of your high school, a pet's name, all common account security questions) and your location. You may love and trust your roommate, but giving away your login information for different accounts is ill-advised.
- Update, Automate and Educate. Enable automatic updates in your operating system software, security software and applications. Many instances of viral infection and malware vulnerability are created just because the user's protection is out of date. Remember, all of the protection in the world won't save you from yourself.
And, keep these basics in mind at all times:
- Don't open attachments that you aren't positive are OK; attachments are one of the most common ways that malware sprads.
- Don't fall for phishing scams. Be skeptical. Phishing is a common way that online accounts are hacked into and can lead to more serious issues like identity theft.
- Don't click on links in email that you aren't positive are safe.
- Don't install "free" software without checking it out first. Many "free" packages are so because they come loaded with spyware, adware, and worse.
Add a password to your smartphone - According to Erie Insurance, "Javelin's report indicates smartphone owners experience identity theft 1/3 more than the general public." Think of all the personal information that is stored in your phone and its apps. Is it password protected? By putting a password on your phone, you can help block thieves from all the information on there.
Check your credit score, bank and credit card statements regularly - Checking on your accounts monthly and your credit throughout the year will help you keep track of your spending and catch any fraudulent activity. If you see something suspicious, call your bank or credit card provider immediately.
Additional Resources: The US Dept of Education is aware that ID theft is a serious problem for college students and is trying to help. The department has created a website that shows college students how to protect themselves and what to do if they become a victim. The website is available at: http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/oig/misused/idtheft.html