State department offers identity theft advice for college-bound students

According to the Federal Trade Commission, one in five identity-theft victims is in his or her 20s. For college students focused on class schedules, socializing, and navigating a new and exciting environment, taking steps to protect private information while on campus may be the farthest thing from their minds. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection encourages families to discuss identity-theft risks and prevention before a student heads off to campus.

“College students live in close quarters, share personal information online, and are less likely to monitor their financial statements and credit reports,” said Sandy Chalmers, division administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection. “That adds up to opportunity for an identity thief.”

For many college students, freshman year is their first time away from home and they may be unaware of the need to actively protect their personal information. There are a number of common-sense steps that college students can take to keep their personal information from falling into the wrong hands, including:

  • Shred any out-of-date documents that include personal information. These documents could include school registration forms, bank or credit card statements, or health-insurance documents.
  • Never carry a Social Security card. Keep the number private.
  • Secure the information in a dorm room. Never leave personal documents lying out in the open; consider purchasing a simple lockbox for credit cards, passports or other sensitive documents needed on campus.
  • Shred credit-card offers. If these offers are stolen, a scammer could open lines of credit in the person’s name.
  • Monitor statements monthly. Review bank and credit-card statements, and phone bills for unauthorized charges or withdrawals. Get a free copy of credit reports at and review them for any unauthorized lines of credit.
  • To further reduce the risk of identity theft, the department provides the following online safety tips for college students:
  • Privacy and security settings exist for a reason. Information on social media like birthdates, pet names and travel plans can be used by criminals to hack your accounts or target a person in scams.
  • Contact the school’s information-technology department. The school may have guidance for incoming students on how to protect web-enabled devices before connecting to the campus network. This department may also provide anti-virus software or hands-on device support for free or at a reduced rate to students.
  • Passwords: Mix letters, numbers and special characters to create passwords that are at least 10 characters long, especially on an email account. Many websites send password update and account access emails to customers, so getting hold of these emails could potentially give a hacker access to all of these online accounts.
  • Protect devices. Update the operating system and anti-virus software on devices to target recent viruses and patch any holes that hackers can use to access a system.
  • Lock down smartphones and tablets. To protect data and make devices useless for most thieves, use passcodes on the main screen of a device and set the lock time for only a couple of minutes.
  • Watch out for “free” apps and unsolicited email and text messages. All these are tools scammers use to spread malicious software. Download programs for a device from an official app store and never click a link in an unsolicited email or text.
  • Surf securely. When shopping or banking online, look for https: or shttp: in the web address. When using a Wi-Fi hotspot, limit the type of business conducted.
  • Visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at or email or call the Consumer Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128 for more information or to file a complaint. Visit Facebook at to connect with the department.

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