As millions of students get ready to head to college and establish their independence, identity thieves are ready for them. Already huge targets, college-age students were in the largest category (34%) of all identity theft victims last year. College students are prime candidates for identity theft problems due to the lack of preventative measures taken, the large number of individuals with access to personal information and a credit industry bombarding them with free offers and easy-to-obtain credit cards.
Todd Davis is the CEO of LifeLock, the nation’s first identity theft prevention service for consumers and also a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist. He has these tips for parents and college-bound students to help protect them from becoming victims of identity theft.
1. Back to school shopping — Back to school shopping usually means new clothes as well as school supplies, including notebooks, laptops, highlighters, pens and pencils. This year though, make sure to add a paper shredder to the shopping list. Report cards, financial aid forms, housing information, class schedules are among the tons of paperwork created each school year that include students personal information that needs to be protected. It doesn’t take much for someone to play the role of you – shred it and forget it!
2. College Housing – No matter what year in school you happen to be starting, chances are you have a roommate. We all want to trust those around us, but living in an apartment, dorm, fraternity or sorority house often forces you to be around many people you don’t know all that well. Keep close tabs of what information is out in the open, on your computer or in your mail. Sometimes the people that can do the most harm are those closest to us.
3. Parents … Check the credit reports — Let’s be realistic … college students won’t order or check credit reports. Parents should do this for them. Before school begins, parents should have their children order their free credit reports and have them sent home. Parents can then check them to make sure all is in order. The major credit bureaus are required to give you one free credit report a year. If you see something that doesn’t look right, check it out. Checking your credit report won’t prevent bad guys from opening new accounts in your name.
4. What if your school can’t protect you? — Since January 2005, more than 200 universities, colleges, school districts and financial institutions for student loans have lost personal information for more than 8 million students and faculty. While these institutions have been quick to spend money to beef-up security systems, breaches with name, date of birth and social security numbers continue to be lost or stolen at a steady pace. Take steps to make sure you have protected your identity entirely, in the event someone your information should become vulnerable to thieves.
5. Reduce the junk mail — It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have a mailbox full of direct mail offers for credit cards, offers for instant credit and other merchandise. Opt out of junk mail and pre-approved credit card offers. Companies love sending these to college students because they know they will be spending money during the upcoming semesters. Identity thieves can pull these offers from your mailbox or trash, and in minutes fill out those applications, change the address to their own address and start spending money using your good name.
6. Set your FREE fraud alerts — Before attending your first class, have fraud alerts placed on personal information. Offered by the three major credit bureaus, fraud alerts mean creditors are to contact you directly and get your approval every time someone tries to open a new credit account in your name or change an address. This way, even if the wrong person does get your information, you can stop them from opening new accounts. You can place those fraud alerts yourself but they must be renewed every 90 days and can fail when creditors don’t make the call. Paying someone like LifeLock a small monthly fee to take care of the fraud alerts for you is one less thing to worry about and provides a $1 million guarantee. For children under 16, this will ensure no credit activity has taken place.
REMINDER: Many traditional colleges and universities are still accepting applications for fall enrollment, and some are still offering scholarships. Similarly, it is not too late to enroll in an online college or online university or to apply for financial aid.