Carelessness and naivety may be to blame for the startling rise in identity theft among college students. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 31 percent of victims fall into the 18-29 age group. But as many advisers warn, identity theft is easy to avoid with the proper precautions.
According to financial author and radio host Dave Ramsey, theft prevention in college begins with simply understanding the importance of privacy. When banking companies visit college campuses with offers for credit card accounts, he says, it’s easy to be misled into giving up personal information, which could make students more vulnerable to identity theft.
This was the case for Kim from Tennessee who wrote to Ramsey after applying for several credit cards in college. After one of the students who accepted Kim’s credit card application leaked her credit card information onto the web, she discovered that she had cars purchased in her name and credit accounts across the country.
The monetary consequences of identity theft can be brutal. For Kim, that meant five years and $150,000. Not only can the experience drain your checking account, it also takes an emotional toll on the victims. According to a survey from Privacy Rights Clearinghouse , the average amount of time spent by victims to regain their financial health was 175 hours.
It can also be very difficult to receive any sort of effective assistance from banks, credit card companies or police in the event of identity theft. Many are left feeling helpless and violated by the experience.
As college students, these are a few steps to help you secure your private information and keep them out of the hands of criminals:
- Do your research. Read up on what kind of information criminals look for and the tactics they take to acquire that information. More and more information is being shared on the internet, and hackers are getting smarter. Familiarizing yourself with identity theft trends can help you stay one step ahead of financial predators.
- Invest in a shredder. Half of all college students receive credit card applications on a daily or weekly basis, according to the Department of Education. And financial predators have discovered that it’s easy to simply fill out those forms themselves and receive the credit card under someone else’s name. Be sure to shred any banking, credit card, applications or anything else that might contains private information that dumpster-diving criminals might get their hands on.
- Closely monitor your banking accounts. What’s worse than having your identity stolen? Having it stolen and not knowing it. College students and young adults are notoriously bad at balancing their checking information. According to the Department of Education, n early one third of students rarely, if ever, reconcile their credit card and checking account balances. Paying close attention to where your money comes from and where it goes will help you spot any suspicious activity early on.
- Make sure you clear the browsing history after using public computers. This especially means those campus computers. Identity thieves know how gullible and careless college students are, which is why there have been so many cases of hacked college computers. Before logging out of any campus computer, clear all browsing data from the computer and delete any sensitive files from the hard drive.
- Beware of internet scams. Your bank or college will never ask you to verify any private information that they should already have. Never. Predators have gotten crafty at appearing as legitimate banking agencies and colleges. Always check that messages are coming from the correct email. For example, if you’re communicating with Wells Fargo, their email address will always end with “wellsfargo.com.” In general, always avoid transferring any private information through the web altogether.