Fall will be arriving, and with it, many students will be starting their first semester in college while fraudsters lurk in the sidelines preying on the perfect opportunity to swipe identities of helpless victims. For many college students, this will be their first time living on their own away from their parents. Leaving the relative safety of the family home, these freshmen will be faced with many interesting new experiences like having roommates and eating dining hall food. Unfortunately, one thing that many may not be prepared for is identity theft.
As a parent, how can you help your son or daughter protect themselves from the threat of identity fraud as they head off to college? The Asbury Park Press provided a helpful list of tips that we’ve adapted here.
1. Protect Your Phone and Computer with a Passcode
Because we live in an age where so much of our personal information is stored on digital devices, make sure that smartphones and computers are secured with a passcode or password. Doing so prevents others from having easy access to their personal accounts and information if your device is lost or stolen.
2. Beware When Browsing Unsecured Wi-Fi Networks
Free Wi-Fi access has become an expectation in most public places, especially on campus. Avoid accessing personal accounts like email and banking on unsecured wireless networks as much as possible. Consider using VPN software on smartphones and computers to create secure connections when using open Wi-Fi networks.
3. Review Financial Statements Regularly
With the popularity of online and mobile banking, it’s now easier than ever to check credit card and bank account activity from anywhere at any time. Make a habit of regularly checking all transactions to make sure that someone hasn’t stolen your account information. Look for any purchases that you don’t recognize and notify your bank or credit card company if you see anything unusual.
4. Watch Out for Email and Phone Scams
Beware of emails or phone calls that claim to be from banks or utility companies asking you to log into a website or provide your personal information. Phishing emails and phone scams are popular ways for fraudsters to trick unsuspecting people into providing their personal information. Don’t click on links in these types of email or call back the company at their publicly listed phone number to confirm the request.
5. Use Strong, Unique Passwords
Avoid using easy-to-guess passwords, and don’t use the same password for all logins. Don’t use words that can be found in a dictionary, and mix upper and lower case letters with numbers and symbols. If you have to write down your passwords, don’t leave them in plain sight, such as next to your computer. There are also free or low-priced apps available that securely store all of those tough passwords that you need to remember.
6. Don't Ever Share Passwords
Never give out your password to anyone, even your best friend. Passwords to internal college websites used for coursework or managing student account information need to be guarded as closely as those for banking or email. Identity thieves can steal personal information from any number of sources.
7. Don't Share Your Credit or Debit Card
Even if it’s for someone to make a quick run to the corner store or coffee shop for you, don’t give your credit or debit card to anyone else to use. Letting others use your card leaves you vulnerable to fraud if it’s lost or stolen as well as through misuse or abuse.
8. Use a Lockbox for Personal Documents
Keep any sensitive documents with personal information locked in a secure place. Don’t carry around important documents like birth certificates or Social Security cards in your wallet. Most of the time, you will not need to show these documents to anyone, and if your wallet is lost or stolen, someone can use these documents to create fake photo ID in your name.
9. Lock Your Dorm Room Door
This is age-old advice that goes back long before the days of our modern digital world. What’s changed is that rather than stealing someone’s stereo system, today’s thieves are after personal information that could come from identity documents, account statements, or even from unsecured smartphones and computers.
10. Get a Shredder
Last but not least, it’s important to remember not leave a paper trail. If you are getting rid of a document with your name on it, it’s best to destroy it using a cross-cut shredder. It’s not enough to simply tear up paper by hand or use old-fashioned straight-cut shredders, since it’s easy for a determined identity thief to rebuild a document destroyed by these methods and steal your personal information.
Watching your kids begin a new chapter in life should be an exciting time. Don’t let it be ruined by fraudsters out to take advantage of their clean credit history. Help them avoid becoming victims of identity fraud by equipping them with the tools and knowledge that they need.
What else can students do to protect themselves from identity theft?