Your 18-year-old college freshman is having the time of his life. An endless array of new acquaintances streams in and out of his dormitory room at all hours, and on weekends the open-door policy really kicks in.
So here’s my question: Has your student given any thought to making sure his wallet is secure, his bank account statement is out of sight, and the ATM deposit slips and debit card aren’t in plain view on top of a stack of textbooks?
Unfortunately, the statistics provide some answers. According to the Federal Trade Commission, young adults 18 to 29 make up the largest proportion of identity theft victims. Scammers steal the personal information mostly to take out loans that will never be repaid.
College students are a preferred target largely because they have little credit history and spend a lot of time online. Surprisingly for such a computer-savvy generation, they’re often lax in safeguarding personal information online, especially on their social media profiles where they might list a partial or full date of birth or address.
Many college students also let down their guard because they mistakenly think they’re in a trusting campus environment. Campus crime statistics, which are publicly available, often tell a different story.
Here are some tips for your college student from identity theft experts at Experian, the credit services company:
• Always keep your room locked, even if you’re going down the hall for five minutes to throw a load of clothes in the washer. Most identity theft occurs in quick hit-and-run ways, such as a wallet being stolen from a drawer or a purse taken from an unlocked room.
• Be wary of whom you allow in your room. This is tough, particularly early in the semester when you’re meeting lots of people and making new friends. But this is your personal space, so be wary.
• Carry with you only the ID that you need, such as a driver’s license and student identity card. Leave the Social Security card and passport at home. If they’re already with you at school, keep them in a small safe in your room along with other documents that contain personal information, such as credit card and bank account statements.
• Buy a small shredder. As I’ve said many times over, a shredder should be as ubiquitous in the dorm room as the hotdog cooker.
• Stick with familiar names and do business on websites that have a security symbol, which indicates the site has taken steps to protect customers’ identification.
• Monitor your credit history. True, most teens and young adults won’t have one, but the report will show if someone has established credit based on stolen information. The three major credit agencies are required to provide a free report once a year. Go to www.
• Investigate personal protection services sold by financial institutions and credit reporting services. These products scan the Internet daily for your information and will alert you quickly to any signs that your identity has been compromised.
One caution: Protection services can cost $100 or more a year. On the other hand, using common sense and being aware of the potential for problems costs nothing.