Why college students make easy identity theft targets

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By Catherine Alford

Going to college is a major transition for many young students. Once you leave the nest and step onto campus, you’re in a unique situation of being a legal adult, even though you’re fresh out of your parents home. Thieves know that college students are very early on in their adult lives, and for that that reason, college students are susceptible to identity theft. In fact, 31% of identity theft victims are between 18-29 years old according to the Federal Trade Commission.

So, why are college students at risk specifically and what can they do to avoid having their identities stolen? Below are some ideas.

Shred Junk Mail

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The Credit Card Act passed in 2009 prevents credit card companies from marketing directly to students on college campuses. In fact, it stipulates credit card companies can’t market within 1,000 feet of a college campus. While this might stop the practice of credit card companies setting up booths on campus and offering free shirts and gifts in exchange for credit card applications, it does not stop them from sending mail to college students directly.

Because college students are young and inexperienced with credit cards, they are more susceptible to these marketing practices. Even if they do know the dangers of credit cards from their parents, they still need to take the extra step of shredding all credit card applications that come in the mail. Many college students might throw their mail out, which makes it easy for thieves to steal their information and apply for credit cards using their personal information. So, all parents should send their kids to school with a shredder in addition to their school supplies and dorm gear.

Protect Your Digital Information

In today’s digital world, getting paper credit card applications in the mail should actually be the least of a college student’s concerns. Because college students study on campus, in coffee shops, and at friends’ houses, they need to make sure their computer is secure as they connect to different wireless networks. Additionally, if they have money apps on their phones or take pictures of their checks to deposit, they need to make sure their phone is very secure as well.

These are all things that seem like common sense, but students need to treat their phones and computers like they are a stack of cash. You wouldn’t leave a huge stack of cash in a classroom or forget a huge stack of cash in your dorm room. College students should envision that their phones and computers are just large digital stacks of cash that thieves can access if left unprotected. So, encourage your college students to take care of their digital belongings and their digital information as if they were prized possessions.

Keep Your Social Security Number on Lockdown

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College students probably know that they shouldn’t carry their social security card in their wallets or give it out to just anyone. However there are numerous times when you might be asked for your social but don’t actually have to give it.

For example, I recently went to an after hours clinic after battling a bad cold. I’d given them my driver’s license number and my insurance card information so when they asked me for my social, I simply asked, “Do you have to have it?” They said no and moved on. This might happen often when you call one of your utility companies on the phone or need to verify any account.

Always ask if someone can verify your identity in another way first. Be aware of where you are when you give out your social security number and if anyone could be listening. If you have to enter it online somewhere, make sure the website you’re using is secure and valid. Essentially, be a little bit more protective of your number than you would originally think, because it would be a huge hassle to get a new one down the road if you have to endure the long, painful road that is identity theft.

Ultimately, thieves target college students solely because of their inexperience. College students can be highly intelligent and very responsible but still fall prey to a thief's very convincing marketing tactics. It’s simply because college students are out on their own for the first time and haven’t yet encountered many crooks and criminals who are trying to sabotage their finances and identity.

However, as long as college students remain vigilant and protect their information, the should be able to emerge from college with a good credit history and a clean financial record. See a related article about how your student loan affects your credit score.

About the Author

Catherine Alford is a personal finance writer, whose work has appeared in U.S. News and World Report and Business Insider, among others.

Written on October 5, 2016

Self is a venture-backed startup that helps people build credit and savings.
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Disclaimer: Self is not providing financial advice. The content presented does not reflect the view of the Issuing Banks and is presented for general education and informational purposes only. Please consult with a qualified professional for financial advice.

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