In a few short weeks, college students will say goodbye to their families and head off to colleges near and far.
But their academic adventures are not without risks, which makes now a good time for a refresher course on the importance of protecting their identities from potential identity thieves.
In 2010, 8.1 million Americans – or 3.5 percent of the population – became victims of identity theft, according to the 2011 Identity Fraud Survey conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research and sponsored by the Better Business Bureau.
The average mean cost of identity theft is $631 and the average time to resolve identity fraud is 33 hours – valuable study time.
“Friendly fraud” accounts for 14 percent of all ID theft crimes. This means that new roommates and friends have just as much potential of being as dastardly as a foreign-based scam artist phishing on the Internet.
And identity thieves – friend or foe – think nothing of dumpster diving (or rifling through unattended trash cans) for unshredded paperwork or even taking mail from unlocked mailboxes (or off a desk). They even cruise social networking sites looking for some personal tidbit that can unlock a wealth of information elsewhere.
What to do?
• Keep sensitive information from prying eyes. Store personal and financial records in a locked storage device or in a password-protected file. Shred sensitive documents you don’t intend to keep. (Note to parents: A paper shredder makes a great last-minute going-away gift for college students.)
• Be mindful of people in close proximity who could overhear or watch as sensitive financial or personal information is provided on the phone, websites or while shopping.
• Avoid providing your full nine-digit Social Security number whenever possible. Ask if you can provide alternate information instead.
• Don’t carry Social Security cards or unnecessary credit cards or checks.
• Request electronic financial statements and use online bill pay whenever possible. Enroll in direct deposit, shred sensitive paper documents, and don’t put checks in an unlocked mailbox.
• Install and update anti-virus and anti-malware software on your computer. Keep firewall, browsers, applications and software updated as well.
• Don’t publish birth date, email address, mother’s maiden name, pet’s name or other identifying personal information on social networking sites. Use privacy settings to control who has access to your profile.
• Use strong passwords that combine letters, numbers and symbols, and change them regularly. Don’t access unsecure websites or type in personally identifiable information while using public Wi-Fi on mobile devices, laptops or computers. Turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when they’re not being used.
• If conducting business online, provide personal or financial information only on secure sites. To recognize these sites, look for a padlock symbol and an “s” after the “http” in the address bar.
• Be vigilant in monitoring bank and credit card statements to spot unauthorized activity. The most common method for fraudsters to take over a victim’s account is by changing the physical address, so sign up for security alerts that are sent to your mobile phone or email account whenever changes are made to your account or personal information.
College students – and others – who believe they are a victim of identity theft should immediately contact their bank and credit card companies, contact the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft to fill out a complaint form, place a fraud alert on their credit report and file a police report