It’s a popular joke when identity theft is the target of conversation: Who’d want to steal my identity? Or, I promise, they’ll beg me to take it back! Yes, the jokes are funny, but they also reveal an underlying, and erroneous, train of thought: I don’t have much (or any) established credit, and I don’t have a lot of money, so who would pretend to be me?
Actually, as a college student, or soon-to-be college student, you’re a prime candidate for identity theft.
Why? Two reasons: Because while you don’t necessarily have much established credit, you probably don’t have bad credit either. And crooks know that credit card companies will often issue new card accounts to college freshmen, because their parents are likely to pay the bills.
The other reason you might be targeted is a bit more frightening: After assuming your identity, a con artist could apply for college and financial aid, receive student loan money, and then disappear with the funds. It happens!
So, as you apply for colleges, or head off to live away from home, we thought you might appreciate these pointers on protecting your identity.
- Be careful with emails. A phishing campaign might direct you to a bogus link, which requests your login information for bank accounts, your student account at a particular school, and so on.
- Don’t use your Social Security number as a password or other identifier.
- Safeguard your driver’s license, debit card, and student ID. Leave documents such as your birth certificate at home – you shouldn’t need that at school. Take care with your phone and laptop, too. If stolen, these devices contain enough information to cause major trouble for you.
- If you shop online, make sure to check for the “lock” symbol which indicates a site is secure.
- Shred bank account statements and other important correspondence before throwing them away.
- Keep an eye on pre-approved credit offers. Before tossing these in the trash, shred them. If discovered by the wrong person, these offers can be completed by someone other than you.
- If you ever suspect that you’ve been a victim of identity theft, notify local law enforcement. Call your bank and credit card companies, and notify the three major credit reporting bureaus of the crime.
- And, as always, keep the lines of communication open with your parents. If you do make a mistake that leads to trouble, they can help you clean up the damage.