Keep Your Identity Safe on Campus

campuslife001.jpgYou might think that as a college student, you aren’t as likely to be the victim of identity theft as someone who’s more established or more high profile. But that simply isn’t the case.

In fact, identity theft among college students is three times higher than for the average victim of fraud. Fortunately, if you raise your awareness of the threat of identity theft on campus, and execute simple strategies to protect yourself, you can boost your odds of preventing your personal information from being stolen.

Why Colleges Are Prime Targets

Small business owners and wealthy individuals might seem like more rewarding targets than college students, but students are often targeted because of the wide range of opportunities to acquire their personal information. Here are just a few of them:

 

  • Credit applications. College students frequently receive credit card applications in the mail, because they have limited credit but significant purchasing needs. If the credit card applications aren’t properly shredded, however, they could be used maliciously by someone who hopes to commit identity fraud.
  • Youthful inexperience. Most college students are in their late teens or early twenties. Younger demographics aren’t necessarily less intelligent than older citizens, but they typically have less experience. It’s hard to protect yourself against schemes you haven’t encountered or heard of before, as well as direct threats you don’t know exist. If nobody has taken the trouble to instruct you how to protect your financial information, you won’t have the tools to defend yourself.
  • Concentrated populations. College campuses are also promising targets because they consist of concentrated populations. There are usually hundreds and often thousands of people living in close proximity, engaging in regular purchasing activity, and therefore making themselves quite vulnerable. All too often, identity thieves can collect multiple victims at once.
  • Public WiFi. College areas often have free public WiFi in libraries, cafes, and even classrooms. If these networks are not secured, they can represent a serious identity vulnerability.
  • Social media. How often do you post on social media? If you’re like most college students, you own multiple social accounts, and post on them on a regular basis. This, by itself, isn’t a threat. But if you casually reveal personal details about yourself on them, this could end up hurting you.

 

How to Protect Your Identity

What can college students do to protect themselves? Here are six ways.

  1. Shred your important documents. One of the easiest steps you can take is to buy a high-quality paper shredder, and shred all your important documents on a regular basis, including credit card applications, bills, and any paperwork that contains personal information. It takes only a few minutes to dispose of such incendiary material each month, and you can prevent identity fraud outright.
  2. Keep track of your credit card and ID at all times. When you’re walking from class to class, attending a party across campus, or engaging in any other recreational activities, it’s easy to lose track of your personal possessions. If a thief manages to obtain any of your personal documents for even just a few minutes, he or she might have enough to steal your identity.
  3. Only use secured networks. Try to use secured WiFi networks as often as possible. Encrypted connections will keep your information safer than any public network. This may not always be convenient or even possible, so when you do use a public network, try to avoid any actions that might uncover your personal data.
  4. Be wary when giving out personal information. On campus, you may be presented with opportunities to give out crucial information about yourself, whether that involves signing up for a club, or applying for grants or loans. Basic data, such as your e-mail address, can’t do much damage. Be extra cautious, though, if someone asks for your Social Security number, your birthday, or your credit card number.
  5. Learn to recognize and watch for common schemes. There are many ways to commit identity theft, from looking over someone’s shoulder at an ATM to using social engineering to trick them into revealing their information. The more you understand about these tricks, the better you’ll be able to protect yourself from them.

Why It Matters

Because you’re young and in college, you might assume that identity theft isn’t a threat. You have limited assets and loads of debt, so why would anyone wish to take advantage of you?

The truth is that anyone can be a victim of identity theft, and it can hurt no matter how few assets you have. If a thief gains access to your accounts, he or she could take money from your accounts, rack up more debt, steal your tax return, or even use your information to engage in criminal activity.

And though most credit card and financial companies offer some degree of identity protection, any fraudulent activity can make your life a struggle for years thereafter. Since most protective measures require only a few minutes, and don’t cost much, they’re more than worth the investment.

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