College students may not realize the severity of identification theft, but sharing too much information or failing to secure personal data can lead to serious financial consequences. You may feel a sense of security and comfort on campus that causes you to let down your guard. With a few simple security steps, you can reduce your risk of an acquaintance or stranger assuming your identity.
Stay Safe Online
Identity theft often occurs online, where perpetrators can easily pose as someone else to acquire information. False e-mail messages are commonly used to get your log-in and password information for online banking and similar sites. For example, you might receive an e-mail saying something is wrong with your account and you need to click the link in the message to correct it. Instead of following the link provided, go directly to the bank's website to enter your log-in information. The information you share on social networking sites may also put you at risk for identity theft. Limit what you post online, especially your personal information.
Don't Share Security Information
Your log-in information, passwords and PIN codes should always remain secret. Never allow a friend or anyone else access to your online accounts, e-mail, social networking log-in or bank accounts. Changing your passwords and PIN codes occasionally makes it more difficult for potential identification thieves to hack those accounts. Students also need to protect credit card and debit card numbers. Stick to reputable vendors when shopping online or paying over the phone. Any statements with identifying information for financial accounts should be stored safely or destroyed completely with a paper shredder.
Protect Personal Documents
When you are away at college, you may need some personal documents, such as bank statements, checkbooks, government IDs and your social security card. Only take the documents that are absolutely necessary when heading back to campus. For the documents that do make it back to the dorms, you need to find a safe spot instead of leaving them in a stack on your desk. A small safe hidden in your dorm closet protects the documents and keeps them out of sight. If you need one of the documents, return it to the safe spot as soon as you are done. Many financial institutions offer paperless statements so you won't have piles of papers lying around with your personal information. Another option is to have financial documents sent home so they aren't in your dorm at all.
Keep Threats Out
The campus environment seems like a safe place, but you should take physical and cyber steps to protect yourself. In the dorms, students commonly keep their doors open when down the hall in a friend's room. Others never lock their doors, even when not in the building. Keep your dorm room locked when you aren't inside. Software on your college computer reduces identity theft. Set your security high on your computer and use firewalls and anti-virus programs. Stolen smart phones and laptops also put you at risk. Secure your electronics that contain personal data to avoid identity theft.
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