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Identity Theft and College Students: Why You May Not Be As Safe As You Think

There’s no denying that safety is a hot topic on college campuses everywhere. It’s one of the first things parents ask about on tours and only gets more ingrained in our minds once we actually move into the school of our choice. Don’t walk alone at night, lock your doors, don’t leave valuables in plain sight. All of this is common sense. You’re a smart girl. Crime only happens to other people. Well, it’s time to face the facts. College students are one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to identity theft. You may be thinking, “But I barely have enough money in my bank account to buy a latte, why would anyone ever want to steal the identity of a poor college student?” Well, that attitude is exactly why you’re the perfect victim.

Dictionary.com describes identity theft as “the crime of obtaining the personal or financial information of another person for the purpose of assuming that person’s name to make transactions or purchases.” While many credit card companies use humor to promote their identity theft services, like this one from Citibank, this crime is no laughing matter. It often takes years to get your identity back. Though credit card theft is one of the most common forms of this crime, overlooked things such as creating a simple password, leaving documents out in the open, and being overly trusting of companies are all potentially dangerous decisions.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you ever let one of your friends use your credit card to order something?
  • Do you use an ATM machine while at school?
  • Do you have a Facebook, Twitter or other social networking account?
  • Do you shop online?
  • Do you bring your license, credit or debit card out with you when you drink?
  • Are you stressed out or overwhelmed with work?

How It Happens
In a feature on identity theft among college students, CBS News quoted Kim, a Tennessee student who was a victim of this type of crime. She told CBS, “My third day at college, I applied for several credit cards on campus. Five years later, I found out that all my personal information was posted on a Web site. I had cars bought in my name and credit accounts across the country.” Kim later found out that another student posted her personal information. Today, she is still feeling the effects of this security breech. Check out their interview with an expert for more information.

Why You’re A Target

These are all reasons why identity thieves see you as an ideal target. According to a New York Times article all it takes are a few pieces of personal information, and someone skilled at identity theft may be able to figure out something as private as your Social Security Number. What’s worse is that this may not even be the result of your own carelessness. Often this information is obtained through what others post about you. A simple disclosure of age and location increases vulnerability. While you can delete those embarrassing photos or even your entire Facebook profile, erasing the effects of identity theft is not so simple. “Identity theft can affect so many things,” says Grace Kelly-Nartowicz, regional vice president of Primerica Financial Services. “It could ruin your entire credit history, and interfere with getting a job that does background checks.” Once your identity is stolen, it takes years to get it back.

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Risky Business
And while it may be obvious that shopping online and displaying revealing information on Facebook is risky business, sometimes identity theft is more personal. Websites like campusfood.com store credit card information for future purchases and do not automatically sign you out each time. Here’s a personal scenario to drive home the importance of logging out each time you leave a web page. After using her credit card to order food on my computer, my friend’s card number was stored on the site. The next weekend, I almost accidentally charged an order to her account, not realizing she had replaced my card number with her own. Though this would have been an honest mistake, it shows just how public our identities are. Had my friend been using a public computer, odds are the next person to discover her slip-up would not have been so understanding.

How You Can Be Proactive

A little research and a lot of caution goes a long way. “Every company should have a privacy act,” says Kelly-Nartowicz. By law, that act must be made available for anyone who requests it. If a company refuses to disclose their policy, this is an immediate red flag. It’s also important that you never hesitate to ask for clarification. Even if a company is rushing to have you sign an agreement or disclose information, you still have the right to ask them to explain any information that looks suspicious. Simple inquiries like this could save you tons of unnecessary stress. So much of this advice probably feels like common sense and that’s because most of it is. Often college life feels like a safe haven, a place separate from the dangers of the real world. While it’s not exactly the most comforting feeling, when it comes to your identity, you’re better off trusting no one. Here are some more tips from Scambusters.org:

  • Keep a password for everything and make sure it’s not something easily guessable. Names of pets or family members, birthdays, and especially the old standby of “password” are definite no’s.
  • Even if you’re best friends with your roommates, keep personal documents hidden or locked away. A dispute down the road may put you at risk.
  • When applying for jobs, be wary of where you give out your information and what you disclose.
  • When you go out on weekends, bring only the absolute necessities. Bring cash instead of a credit card and, if possible, leave your license at home. These all provide easy ways for a theft to track your identity. And let’s be honest, alcohol doesn’t exactly help us keep track of our belongings, either.
  • Shred all old credit cards and documents before throwing them away.
  • Whenever you get a new drivers license, throw away your old one. License numbers are easily trackable.

Sources:
http://www.scambusters.org/identitytheft/collegestudentsguide3.html http://www.whostolemyidentity.com/uploads/Image/identity-theft.jpg Grace Kelly-Nartowicz, Regional Vice President, Primerica Financial Services

Alyssa Grossman is a Jersey girl who sacrificed warmer winters to study Magazine Journalism at Syracuse University. When she isn’t writing, you can probably find her tap dancing, baking, or laughing uncontrollably with friends. She loves going on spontaneous road trips, then coming back and recording every detail in her journal. She’s also obsessed with pumpkin spice lattes and sushi, though not together. Last summer, she interned at M Magazine and as a result, is now a teen pop culture whiz. She is Features Editor at Zipped Magazine, Syracuse University’s fashion publication, and is a contributing writer for the online magazine, bizme.biz. After graduation, she plans to follow her love of Magazine Journalism wherever it takes her. Because, frankly, she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.
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