How to Fight Identity Theft on Campus and Off
- Student Tips
Among some of those most vulnerable populations susceptible to identity theft, university students are also among the least worried—and they should be. In a recent study published by Javelin Identity Fraud, over 64 percent of university students reported feeling “not very concerned about fraud.” The flip side? They’re four times more likely to be victims of “familiar fraud”—friends, family members, and casual acquaintances—than an average consumer. What’s going on and what should you do about this threat? We’ve compiled six super tips for you.
1. Beware public computers and unsecured WiFi
Limit your usage on any public computer and any WiFi that does not require a password. Do nothing with banking or billing on any public computer—and always remember to log off.
Whatever you do, avoid the lion’s den—unsecure WiFi. Sure, in your campus library, you’re probably fine—as long as you stay connected to secure WiFi. Once you start to roam though, you may weave in and out of unsecured networks—and ensnare yourself in a trap. Internet predators often open up “hot spots” on campuses that lure students looking for better internet connections. Once you’ve entered one of these tangled webs? An internet predator can easily hack into your phone, implant Malware—and have access to every password that you have open on your phone.
A quick note on Malware: it’s any software that aims to damage or disable computers and their systems. You’re susceptible to it on your phone. You can have it removed—if you’re unsure how to do it yourself, visit your campus tech center for some help.
2. Maintain strong passwords
First of all, secure both your phone and your computer with passwords or appropriate passcodes. It only takes a few seconds—and you can easily remember 8-12 characters, or a few swipes across a screen—to add some security.
When you create your passwords, no one should be able to guess them. What does this mean? Don’t use your name, email address, phone number, pet’s name, birthday, or social security number. Use a mix of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and characters. Pick something that only you will remember. Consider using a tool like 1Password or LastPass that creates and maintains passwords. Final tip? Change your passwords frequently. Emerson had it right: “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”—that want to steal your information. Best place to store those passwords? In your brain.
3. Dispose of Personal Info Appropriately
Anything with your name and any financial information, social security number—even snippets of it—should be shredded and recycled. This includes those “pre-approved” credit card applications that you may receive in the mail, bank statements, student loan paperwork, credit card bills, and any other information that requires you to interact with any financial institution. Don’t throw it away or recycle it as it is—trust no one with this information except yourself—especially on campus.
4. Lock your dorm room
While this isn’t rocket science, it flies in the face of dorm norms. Do it anyway. Your roommate and hall mates don’t need unnecessary access to your personal information—and neither does anyone else who happens to wander in. Key cards to dorms help, but they’re not surefire. With universities ripe for identity theft, even the most innocent-seeming visitor may be looking for more than just a friendly face.
5. Safeguard your Social Security Number
Your SSN is the key to your finances. Memorize it. Never carry your card with you—keep it in a safe. The only ones who need it? Your financial institutions. Your employer. That’s it. If anyone else asks you for it, ask if you can give an alternative. If you can’t give an alternative, don’t give any number at all. Walk away. Never write it on your checks. Ever.
Check out the Social Security Administration’s safety tips.
6. Monitor your credit report
Check it at least once a year. What are you looking for? Any suspicious activity. Debts you don’t recognize. Names you don’t recognize. You can get a free credit report once a year at Annual Credit Report, or by calling 877-322-8228.
What should you do if you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft? Contact your financial institutions immediately and let them know. Consider a credit freeze, which allows you to refuse others access to your credit.
Yes, you’re a university student, but as invincible as you may feel, you are never immune to identity theft. Enjoy your years at university—and play it safe, especially with your identity. After all, you have only one.
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.