Whether you’re attending a community college, technical school, or 4-year university, criminals see you as a prime target when they want to engage in identity theft. With the right combination of personal information, a criminal can cause major problems with your credit and even steal the money in your bank accounts. Before heading back to campus, consider seriously implementing these seven steps to ensure your identity stays safe during your time on campus.
7. Safeguard Your Social Security Number
Think of your social security number as a golden key that unlocks nearly all your personal and financial data. Unfortunately, some campuses use your security number as the primary way to identify you. That means anyone from administrative assistants to teachers may ask for your number. While many of these requests may be innocuous and legitimate, be wary about when, where, and to whom you give your number. Secondly, don’t carry your social security card with you. While it may be just one more number you have to memorize, it’s an important one you’ll use your whole life. Commit it to memory and put the card itself under lock and key in your dorm room or leave it at your parents’ house.
6. Have and Use a Paper Shredder
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From credit card offers you get in campus mail to print-outs from the dean’s office, there are all kinds of documents that contain identifying information. Shred any papers containing your name, social security numbers, student ID, address, and telephone number. If you need to keep some of these papers, store them in a secure place. Avoid leaving them out on your dorm room desk where anyone who enters could see them. With one snap of a smartphone camera, an unscrupulous person can capture an image of the document containing your personal data.
5. Understand the “Trade”
Identity theft comes in several different forms. To help you protect your personal information, identityTheftProtection.org outlines the different types of fraud thieves may employ. Knowing the tricks of the “trade” helps you stay one step ahead of the latest scam.
4. Protect Your Smartphone
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Be smart about protecting your backpack or purse because thieves aren’t just looking for wallets. Stealing your smartphones opens the door for criminals to take all kinds of personal information. Do you access your financial institution through an app? Don’t stay logged in, and choose a password that’s difficult to guess. It also should be something different from the one you use to unlock your phone.
3. Lock Your Laptop
Just as you have to be diligent in protecting your phone, you also need to lock your laptop with a password. Log off when you’re not using it to reduce the chances that someone who visits your dorm room or apartment could access data you have stored on the computer. Besides being a ripe target for identity thieves, laptops are attractive to a regular thief who wants nice electronics. In either case, be aware that your laptop, like your phone, has a target on it.
2. Stop Doing Sensitive Transactions on WiFi
Sure, it’s tempting. When you’re waiting in the student commons, you hop on the WiFi and transfer money from your checking account to savings. However, resist the urge to do these kinds of transactions over public WiFi. It’s relatively easy for a third party to see what you’re doing and take advantage of it. Ideally, you should only undertake sensitive transactions over WiFi when you know the connection’s secure or when the website is encrypted. When these protections are not in place, wait to do your online banking and bill paying.
1. Shop Safely Online
Image via Flickr by Keith Williamson
Many college students love to shop online. They can access products and services that aren’t available locally. However, carelessly sharing your personal information such as your name, address, and credit card information puts you at risk for identity theft. Simply make sure the site is secure before you shop. One easy way to do this is look for the letter “s” after “http” in the address bar of your web browser. As a college student, when have you felt that your personal information was vulnerable? Which steps can you take today to decrease the chances you’ll fall victim to an identity thief?
Emily Green is a freelance writer with more than six years’ experience in blogging, copywriting, content, SEO, and dissertation, technical and thesis writing.