Every three seconds someone’s identity is stolen according to the Javelin Strategy & Research 2012 Identity Theft Report – and college students are increasingly one of the biggest targets at risk for ID theft. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission reports college students (ages 20-29) represent the highest percentage of all identity theft complaints.
“There are several reasons why college students are a prime target for identify theft,” said Joe Vahey, vice president and product manager at Erie Insurance. “Not only do they usually have pristine credit records but also they’re exposed to situations that can leave them unknowingly vulnerable to becoming a victim of ID theft.”
With just a few pieces of a college student’s personal information, new credit lines can be opened, bank accounts can be drained, fraudulent tax returns can be filed, medical services can be sought and a student’s name can even be provided as an alias to police upon an arrest. All of these circumstances can cost thousands of dollars to correct and can even cost new graduates job opportunities as credit and background checks are routinely performed by employers.
10 tips to help prevent college students from becoming ID theft victims
- Put a cross-cut shredder and lock box on your back-to-campus list – and use them. Keep laptops, tablets and Social Security cards in the lock box.
- Never carry your Social Security card with you, and don’t give out your Social Security number without verifying who is requesting it and why.
- Check that your school uses a student ID number that isn’t your Social Security number.
- Be wary of peer-to-peer file sharing programs and unsecure WiFi networks, and use up-to-date computer security software.
- Resist the urge to over share. Avoid noting your birth date, high school name or pet’s name on social media sites as these are often answers to security questions used to validate your identity.
- Avoid the myriad credit card sign-up booths on campus and use your cross-cut shredder to destroy mailed credit card offers you will not use. If you must, select one card from a reputable credit card company and use it instead of a debit card for purchases, as credit cards provide extra layers of fraud prevention.
- Add a password to your smartphone. Javelin’s report indicates smartphone owners experience identity theft 1/3 more than the general public. Since many people store passwords, personal information and account information on their devices, if a phone is stolen and there is no password the thief will have access to all of that private information.
- Be aware of your surroundings including “shoulder surfers” and other suspicious activity.
- Check your credit score throughout the year and your bank and credit card statements monthly for signs of fraudulent activity.
- Parents, consider purchasing identify theft protection coverage for your college student. For example, Erie Insurance’s Identity Recovery and Fraud Reimbursement Coverage can cover costs associated with re-filing loans or grants and legal fees as well as working with the three major credit bureaus and others to close fraudulent accounts and restore credit ratings quickly.
What to do if you suspect identity theft
If you don’t have identity theft coverage, report the suspicious activity to the appropriate institution and request a new account number as well as a fraud alert notice on your account. Placing a fraud alert on your account makes it more difficult for new accounts in your name to be opened. Also order copies of your credit report and notify the appropriate credit bureau in writing of the fraudulent account activity. File an identity theft report with the FTC and your local police department, too.
If you don’t ever want that hassle, consider Identity Recovery Coverage. It comes with a case manager to help you navigate all that needs to be done should your identity be lifted.