7 ways college students can avoid identity theft

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7 ways college students can avoid identity theft
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You know what they say: College is the best time of your life! But what many young people don’t realize is that while they’re having the time of their life, a few financial mistakes can follow them around long after graduation.

Identity fraud impacts young people most

According to a study by Javelin Strategy & Research, there’s a new victim of identity fraud every two seconds. So who are these victims? While students are the least concerned about identity theft, they are actually impacted the most. A whopping 22% of students were notified that they were a victim of identify fraud in 2014 — either by a debt collector or when they were denied credit. That’s three times higher than average victims.

Read more: Clark’s Identity Theft Guide

The problem is while many young college students are digitally savvy, they may not be aware of the risks they’re taking — and how to properly protect themselves — when it comes to things like online banking, mobile payments, account security and even using certain Wi-Fi networks. 

Life as a college student can be challenging enough — especially financially — so don’t make it worse by leaving your personal information exposed to a world full of thieves.

How to protect yourself and your personal information

  • Don’t carry a checkbook. Pay by cash or credit card. Debit cards carry a lot of hidden dangers, so if you have one, be aware of those risks! Here are 9 places you should never use a debit card.
     
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card with you or use your Social Security number as your driver’s license number. Also, don’t give your number to anyone at school, including instructors. Here’s Clark’s list of places to never give your Social Security number.
     
  • Buy a paper shredder. Shred any documents listing your Social Security number and other financial information, such as your bank account numbers and credit card numbers. This is the number one way of preventing identity theft. Here’s a list of which documents you should keep and which ones you should get rid of.
     
  • Make sure your passwords are strong and unique for every account you access online. NEVER use the same password for your banking information that you use for any other site! Remembering a different password for every login can be difficult, so what you can do is use a password that’s both easy to remember and highly customizable for every different website you visit. Here’s one possibility: When you go to a website, you use the password you normally use, but have some system in place like appending the first two letters of the site’s name to your password. So if your password is ‘bluesky,’ you would use ‘blueskyza’ at Zappos or ‘blueskyam’ at Amazon. Use a personal system that’s easy for you to remember — but will help keep your accounts secure. Here are some ways to store your passwords — and keep them safe!
     
  • Be cautious of free public Wi-Fi. Scammers can easily steal your information when you’re using an unsecured network. And while it can be difficult for college students to completely avoid public Wi-Fi connections, there are ways to reduce the risks involved. First, if you’re using a school computer, make sure to always completely log out of every website and the computer itself. When it comes to using free Wi-Fi networks, never sign in to any of your accounts that contain sensitive personal information, such as your bank account or any account that contains your bank, debit or credit card information. Here are more tips to protect yourself from scammers on public Wi-Fi.
     
  • Secure your smartphone, tablet and laptop with a unique password. And if your devices are set to connect to Wi-Fi automatically, be cautious of the information stored in each gadget, because if scammers can get to it, they will.
     
  • Be wary of email scams. Thieves have gotten very good at making fake emails look legitimate, so if you get an email that could possibly be fake, call the company you have an account with to confirm the information — before clicking on any links! Here’s more on the latest scams and how to protect yourself.

Read more: Virus, Spyware & Malware Protection Guide

If someone has taken your identity and is cashing your checks or using your credit cards, you should: 

Report the situation immediately to your bank or credit card company. You may not have monetary liability because forgery and/or fraud is involved, but you will want the companies to be aware of the problem, as this is something that could affect your credit. In addition, follow these instructions to fully protect yourself:  

  • Contact all three credit bureaus and issue a fraud alert. Check your credit report six months later and look for items you don’t recognize.  
     
  • Provide a copy of your driver’s license to each agency’s fraud unit in order to register an affidavit. 
     
  • Contact the proper authorities in writing, via certified receipt request. 
     
  • Inform your local police department, Social Security Administration and all creditors with whom you have accounts. 

If you don’t realize that thieves have stolen your identity until they begin racking up debt, here’s Clark’s advice for what you should do.

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Alex Thomas Sadler About the author:
Alex Thomas Sadler is the Managing Editor of Clark.com and Clark Howard Digital Products. Alex is also the host of Common Cents, a new Clark.com series that makes money simple, so you can better understand and take control of your own financial life. Alex graduated from the University of Georgia with bachelor's degrees in ...Read more
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