10 ways college students can fight ID theft

College is a time of eye-opening experiences, opportunities and challenges. So why let an identity thief ruin it?

Identity theft is something you might not know is even happening until you try to apply for a loan or a credit card and get turned down, find that money has trickled out of your bank account, get refused for an apartment lease or file your income tax return online to discover someone else already did in order to steal your refund.

In 2014, it was the No. 1 problem reported to the Federal Trade Commission, which received 332,646 complaints, up from 290,099 a year earlier.

College students who grew up with computers but are still learning the ways of finance can leave themselves open to identity theft.

“When people go to college today, they are independent for the first time,” said Rod Griffin, director of public education for Experian, a credit-reporting agency. “They are wide open. They tend to be very trusting and that poses risks for them.”

According to a study by Javelin Strategy Research, 22% of students were notified that they were a victim of identity fraud either by a debt collector or when they were denied credit, three times higher than average fraud victims.

Campus life has its own challenges.

“Sometimes when people arrive on campus, they can be overwhelmed with the new location, new friendships, meeting people,” said William McElrath, Monmouth University’s police chief. “They sometimes forget the normal procedures that they might have taken when they were home.”

Here are 10 really important things to remember. Get the highlighter out and clip this.

• Buy a shredder. Use it for any mail or paperwork that contains personal information, such as your name, or financial details.

“If it has your name on it, shred it if you are going to get rid of it,” Griffin said. “ID thieves go through the trash and they find documents and they are off to the races.”

• Use a lockbox to store personal documents and valuables in your room. When you’re at college, you are surrounded by people you don’t know.

“Don’t walk around campus with your Social Security card,” said Karen Goff, assistant provost and dean of students at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J. “If you lose your wallet, you’ve lost critical information that can unlock all sorts of information about you personally.”

Take Logaina Elattar’s advice. The Georgian Court senior has memorized her Social Security number. “I just keep (the card) at home. I don’t keep it with me,” said Elattar, 21.

• Have strong, unique passwords for your computer and any online websites, such as your bank or shopping sites.

“Obviously, you don’t want it to be abc1234,” said Melissa Companick, president and chief executive officer of the Better Business Bureau of New Jersey. A good password has a combination of upper and lower case letters, characters and numbers.

And don’t put your passwords on a piece of paper tacked next to your computer. “If you need to keep a list of them, keep them locked up and secured somewhere,” Companick said.

Password managers, such as Dashlane, are helpful as well.

• Don’t share your passwords with anyone. Not even your best friend. “No matter how close you are with someone, it is not best to share your password with people,” Goff said.

A college’s internal website, such as those that allow for communication between students and professors or have details about tuition bills or financial aid, contain important personal information, so keep that password private as well.

• Lock your dorm door. It sounds simple, but it will prevent a crime of opportunity, McElrath reminded Press on Your Side. Griffin added: “Instead of stealing your stereo, today they steal your identification documents and credit-card numbers.”

• Make sure your smartphone or tablet computer is protected with a passcode. These devices contain all sorts of personal information. “Obviously, we are in a mobile world, we are connected all the time,” Companick said.

• Beware of browsing the web on unsecured wi-fi networks. Scammers can tap into your activity. Make sure you log off of computers, networks and websites after you’re done browsing.

• Be wary of email scams. Fraudsters will try to net your personal information by sending out phishing emails that look like legitimate messages from your telephone company, bank or other people you do business with.

Don’t click on links in emails or open attachments, or give out personal information to people who call on the telephone. “Don’t respond to those things,” McElrath said.

• Check your bank and credit card statements regularly. “Online banking makes it easy,” Companick said. Obtain your free credit report and check it for inaccuracies.

• Don’t share your credit card or debit card, Goff said. It doesn’t matter if it’s just to a person to get you something at the store or cafe.

Article source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2015/08/29/ways-college-students-can-fight-theft/71402230/

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