College students prepare themselves for a variety of new experiences when they first move away from home. Identity theft, however, is one factor that they may not consider when thinking about the challenges that come with their newfound independence.
Unfortunately, identity theft should be at the top of their mind. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly 400,000 identity theft complaints in 2016, and 15% of those came from consumers aged 20-29. Consumer Reports, a BBB Accredited Charity, notes that households headed by individuals aged 18-24 may be even more likely than average to experience identity theft.
Not only are college students put in unique situations that may put them at higher risk of identity theft, they also may not be taking the necessary precautions to avoid it.
BBB offers the following tips to students and their parents to help mitigate their risk:
- Securely store personal documents. Keep only what you need in your wallet or purse and keep everything else in a safe, including your laptop and any other devices that contain sensitive information. This includes credit cards, your driver’s license, and anything that includes your Social Security Number (SSN) or other sensitive information. Make sure to shred any documents that contain personal information before throwing them away.
- Protect yourself with strong passwords and PINs. Secure all online accounts with strong passwords. Passwords should be long and unique, and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. Turn on multi-factor authentication if possible. Write passwords down on a piece of paper and store it in your safe, don’t keep them on any device. You can also use a password manager, just make sure to check out the business on org first. Make sure all your devices are protected by a password. Be careful using public Wi-Fi, you may be exposing yourself to scammers. Learn more about password safety at bbb.org/passwords and read more about the dangers of public Wi-Fi here.
- Watch out for scams. In 2016, students nationwide reported more than 2,300 scams to BBB Scam Tracker. Many scams aim to glean personal information in the hopes of stealing your identity. Learn how to protect yourself from a variety of scams at org/scamtips. It’s also important to not over-share on social media. Consumer Reports notes that “fraudsters can mine social media posts for information that could help them get past account security questions on various sites.”
- Don’t give away your SSN unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your SSN, financial information, and other personal information should only be given out on a need-to-know basis. If you’re prompted to share your SSN, first ask if there’s another way to identity yourself. If you don’t have a choice and can’t avoid using the service (e.g., to see your class or grade information), make sure that you trust the institution or person who needs it. The fewer people that know your personal information, the better. Be wary sending personal information through the mail, as it could be stolen. Online, look for the “https” in the URL, where the “s” stands for “secure”.
- Stay on top of your credit. Checking your credit report is one of the best ways to catch instances of identity theft. In the U.S., you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three credit bureaus once per year at annualcreditreport.com. Space these checks out across the year, and you will know fairly quickly if something is awry.
The best line of defense against identity theft is to guard your personal information. For more tips on avoiding identity theft, visit bbb.org/identitytheft. If you’ve had your identity stolen, visit identitytheft.gov to learn next steps, and then report it BBB Scam Tracker.