How College Students Can Protect Themselves From Identity Theft

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Identity theft isn't just a problem for adults in the workforce. College students can easily fall victim to it too, but these strategies can help you keep your information safe.

Picture this: you're working tirelessly to earn a degree, spending hours upon hours studying with the hope of establishing a name for yourself in your desired field. You're ready for what the future holds - until you discover that your identity has been stolen by someone you don't even know. As college campuses become increasingly more connected, cybercriminals are taking notice and setting their focus on exploiting the vulnerable information of students. Keep reading to find strategies both students and parents can use to ensure their personal data is secure.

Students look at information online.

Did You Know?

  • Identity theft, as defined by LifeLock, is: 'An action in which thieves steal your personal information in order to take over or open new accounts, file fake tax returns, rent or buy properties, or commit other criminal actions under your name.'
  • Over 60 million American consumers reported suspicious activity resembling identity theft in 2017. Of those cases, 25% are true reports of identity theft, contributing to $16.8 billion in losses.
  • Out of the 1,000 college students who participated in this survey, roughly 41% of the students were part of scams that asked them to pay a previously undisclosed fee in advance of applying for or accepting a scholarship or loan. Among those individuals, 73% of them paid the surprise fees in order to receive the award.

Vulnerable Information

When applying to colleges or enrolling in various financial programs, it's essential for parents and students to handle sensitive documents with care. The most private and sensitive data is often referred to as personally identifiable Information (PII). PII includes birth certificates, social security and insurance cards, licenses, medical statements, government benefit statements, tax documents, and any other physical or digital document containing potentially sensitive information.

Considering the amount of information shared and transferred online, criminals find it relatively easy to steal the identities of college students. From credit destruction and exploitation to cyber and physical crimes, identity theft at a young age can have serious repercussions on an individual. Below are a number of things that could put your information at risk:

  • Using public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks
  • Oversharing personal information online or using social media
  • Leaving digital devices and documents unattended or unlocked
  • Falling for a fake online student loan or scholarship website
  • Duplicate, easy to guess, or previously used passwords and security questions

Students must protect their online information.

Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

The first step in protecting yourself from identity theft is knowledge and awareness. Cybercriminals rely on your carelessness in order to take advantage of you. By staying informed about what activities can put your information at risk, you will think twice when posting on social media, creating passwords, or using public computers.

The next step is putting that knowledge into practice in your everyday life. Easier said than done, given how much you have going on as a college student. However, even taking a few extra precautions to protect your online accounts can go a long way in warding off cybercriminals. Here are additional strategies to protect your digital identity:

  • Safeguard your social security number and only provide it when absolutely necessary
  • When sending PII through email, use encryption
  • Shred personal documents before throwing them away
  • Do not share passwords with anyone else
  • Change passwords regularly

Internet safety is important for students.

How Students Can Stay Informed

Because cybercrime is becoming more prevalent, students should stay up to date on identity theft and fraud alerts. If your favorite online shopping website gets hacked, you want to be the first to know so you can change your password and monitor your card.

Note that cybercriminals never rest, so neither can you! Pay attention to news articles about fraud, scams, and website hacks year-round, and be aware of your online activities whether you are applying for grants, researching at the library, or posting about a summer vacation.

To further protect yourself from identity theft, get in the habit of checking your bank accounts daily for suspicious activity. Staying informed about where your money is going is essential. The faster you can catch an unidentified charge, the faster you can alert the bank and protect from further loss. If your identity does get stolen, take action right away by cancelling any compromised credit cards and notifying the necessary authorities.

Applying for additional funding for college? Study.com's How to Apply for College Grants & Scholarships course can help you navigate the process.

This post was co-authored by Brent Scott, a cybersecurity specialist and community advocate.

By Meghan Cooney
August 2018
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