Are you or your child heading to college soon? Identity theft could pose a huge problem.
CBSNews.com recently reported that college students are particularly vulnerable to identity theft, and that people between the ages of 18 and 29 are most commonly victimized. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 31 percent of identity theft victims are in this age group.
Students under attack
One of the reasons college students are so vulnerable is that they lack awareness of the severity of the problem and about how to prevent it from happening. In addition, they may not realize the far-reaching implications of becoming a victim. Students are also more likely to share personal information online as well as pay bills or shop online on public computers.
The damage identity theft can cause is extensive, and it can take months or sometimes even years to resolve those issues. Some of the consequences may include:
- Inability to obtain a loan, credit card or even a bank account
- Difficulty trying to rent an apartment
- Problems getting a job
- A criminal record if the thief steals your identity and commits a crime
- Emotional stress due to privacy violations as well as getting hounded by bill collectors and trying to prove your identity was stolen
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to significantly decrease your risk of becoming a victim of this serious crime.
Store your personal information in a safe place
Important documents like your Social Security card should always be stored in a safe place. If you live in a dorm room or have roommates, invest in some type of locked storage such as a safe. Don’t carry it in your wallet with your driver’s license, or keep the number written down on a piece of paper inside of it either.
Any documents that contain the number should be shredded before they are discarded as thieves often go through dumpsters to locate them. One of the most important back-to-school items you can invest in is a shredder.
Kipplinger.com reports that one of the most dangerous places to give out your Social Security number is at a college or university. If your school uses the number for student identification, request to be assigned a different number.
Preventing “shoulder surfing”
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that “shoulder surfing” is one of the most common ways for thieves to steal someone’s identity. The thief may appear to be texting or talking on the phone when he or she is actually capturing a photo of your credit card information or even recording your conversation such as when you are providing a credit card number while making a hotel reservation or purchase over the phone. This can also occur if you’re using your laptop in a public place with the thief taking a picture of your personal information on the computer screen.
To prevent having your identity stolen this way, it’s best to avoid giving out your personal information over the phone, or shopping or paying bills online in a public place.
Carefully guard incoming and outgoing mail
Don’t mail your bills or other items that contain personal information in an unsecured campus mailbox. Deposit it directly into a U.S. Postal Service mailbox. You should also opt out of junk mail and pre-approved credit card offers which can be done by calling the toll free number, 1-888-5-OPT-OUT or visiting OptOutPrescreen.com. Obtain a locking mailbox or a Post Office box to further help prevent thieves from gathering your information via your incoming mail.
Taking the simple steps outlined in this article can help you or your child keep someone from stealing your identity and ruining your college experience.