As summer starts winding down, there is uncertainty what “back to school” will look like this fall in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The news is continuously developing around whether students will be back in the classrooms, participating online, or doing a hybrid of the two. Either way, students will get back to learning, and as young adults go off to college it may open more than their minds to new ideas and doors to new opportunities; college may also open their eyes to issues often overlooked: experiencing identity theft and fraud. The 20 to 29 age group is most affected by identity theft, representing 33 percent of victims according to a 2019 Federal Trade Commission report.
If you are going back to campus or participating in online classes, here are six common scenarios that make college life prime time for identity crime and common-sense ways for college students to handle them:
Scenario #1: Living with roommates (particularly unfamiliar ones)
Whenever people share a dwelling, there is an increased chance that sensitive information could be seen (and pilfered) by others. Even knowing and trusting a roommate doesn’t guarantee the information is secure. There is also a good chance a roommate will invite unfamiliar guests.
Keep personal and financial data in a secure place. Don’t leave a wallet or mail out in the open, and store paperwork and vital documents in a locked file cabinet or box.
Scenario #2: Sharing digital devices
Whether it’s community computers on campus or a personal device, these digital interfaces involve abundant data exchange, often including sensitive data.
Don’t log in to personal accounts from public workstations, and be sure to password-protect personal computers, tablets, and phones. This makes it easier for identity thieves to access email and other personal accounts, which could lead to misuse of an account or stolen information to create a fraudulent account.
Scenario #3: Tossing mail without shredding it first
Invoices, letters, loan or credit offers, and other mail can put personal information at risk.
Mail theft and dumpster diving continue to pose an identity threat., Be sure to shred documents containing sensitive data (name, address, account numbers, Social Security number, etc.) before throwing unwanted mail in the trash. A cross-shredder is best.
Scenario #4: Using unsecured Wi-Fi
Internet access is so readily available, it’s easy to take it for granted. You may not even realize how many Wi-Fi networks you encounter in a given day. Some are secure, while others are not. As you go about your day, you could pass through dozens of Wi-Fi networks.
It’s up to you to be sure that you are connected to password-protected Wi-Fi each time you go online. This is particularly important when using any portable devices.
Scenario #5: Sharing passwords or access codes
Certainly, college students know better than to give out personal passwords or access codes. A Zebra Insurance survey found 79% of individuals share their passwords with someone outside their home, yet only 13% worry that oversharing their passwords will lead to identity theft.
Keep passwords to yourself. No matter how convenient it may seem to share them, this is a dangerous practice that too often leads to stolen information.
Scenario #6: Private conversations in public
As a busy college student, making phone calls in between classes, at restaurants and other community spaces seems like an everyday activity. But what about when calling a financial institution, loan service, medical office, or any place that needs to collect or verify personal information?
Whenever sensitive data is being shared, make sure it is communicated out of earshot from others. Simply put, don’t hold these conversations in public. There is always a chance someone could overhear and even record a private conversation.
These are simple steps that anyone can take to protect personal information — even the most overwhelmed college student. It’s also just as easy to invite these risks if not taken seriously. Use this primer as an important reminder that identity thieves prey on the unsuspecting. Follow these tips to keep identity theft out of the college experience.
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*Originally posted August 8, 2016. Updated AUGUST 3, 2020.*
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of EZShield Inc. alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or entity, including specifically any person or entity affiliated with the distribution or display of this content.