Let’s face it. You’re a college student. You don’t have much spending money, and your bank accounts are dwindling. The idea of identity theft may never even cross your mind. Who would want to steal from you, anyway? Honestly, a large number of identity thieves. A July 2011 study showed that 34% of all identity theft victims were college students. The fact that one in seven of the thefts occurred by someone the victim knew is even more frightening. But, you don’t have to be worried or even scared. You just need to be smart. Here’s how.
What, exactly, is identity theft?
Straight and to the point, identity theft is when someone pretends to be you by supplying your personal information. Most of the time, identity thieves do this is order to obtain some type of credit, not to hack into your bank account and withdraw funds. Instead of simply robbing you, these individuals use your name to obtain car loans, home loans and credit cards. They make large purchases but never follow up on payments, causing your credit to get ruined in the process.
Why college students?
One of the main reasons college students are prime targets is because their credit is still intact. Just think of all of the credit card offers you get on a weekly basis. This means that lenders want to lend to you, and these are exactly the types of people that thieves prey upon.
Take a look at the following questions. Can you answer “yes” to any of them?
- Do you use your use your credit card or college ID on a daily basis?
- Is your college ID your social security number?
- Do you live in a dorm or apartment where numerous people might have access to your personal information, computer, passwords, etc.?
- Do you just toss credit card offers in the trash without shredding them?
- Do you frequently check your bank and/or credit card statements for fraudulent activity?
- Do you use your cell phone to text, talk or search the internet for private things that might help an identity thief obtain personal information (i.e. pet’s name, home address, social security number when talking to your bank or your student loan officer)?
- Are you on a social media website where you list a lot of your personal information?
An article posted by Chris Morran on February 22, 2012, for The Consumerist explains that a “Report Links Increase In ID Theft To Rise In Smartphone Use, Social Media.” If you think about it, this makes sense. Your whole life is on your phone, and if it isn’t password protected, then anyone can get your information. Online social websites are also great places for identity thieves to grab large pieces of information about people quickly.
How can I protect myself?
According to an article on Business Insider on February 2, 2012, there are “5 Terrifying Things You Should Know About Identity Theft,” especially that “new account fraud” seems to be getting worse and that identity theft is becoming harder and harder to detect early.
Just like in regular theft, though, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself. Begin by keeping the following information private:
- Your social security number, aka your student ID number—and, let’s be honest, your student ID is used for everything from buying textbooks and registering for classes to grabbing a bite in the student union and getting correspondence from your college in the mail (yup, each letter addressed to you probably has your student ID printed on it)
- Your home address and phone number (one or the other might be okay, but not both together)
- Any account numbers (keep in mind that these appear on each and every bank or credit card statement)
A few other basics to protecting your identity:
- Keep your dorm room or apartment locked
- Keep your desk area neat and tidy (not only will this keep you on good terms with your roommate(s), it will also keep documents that contain personal information away from potential identity thieves)
- Use a secure password for your computer (don’t use Fido as your password if a picture of your pooch is hanging right above your computer) and change it often
- Check your credit report at Experian, EQUIFAX or TransUnion—everyone gets one free credit report each year
- Invest in a shredder (not just for those pesky credit applications but also for old schedules, grade reports and bank statements)
- Log out each time you use a public computer
For more information on how to protect yourself or to report that your identity has been stolen, visit the U.S. Department of Education website.
Keep in mind that identity thieves are opportunistic; if they have to search too hard to put your information together, they may likely give up and move on to someone whose information is easier to access.