What is identity theft?
Identity theft is an act of stealing and using one’s personal information in order to commit fraud and other criminal activity. Once the personal information is obtained, thieves can take over one’s bank account, open new credit cards in one’s name, apply for car loans, rent or buy property, or claim one’s tax refund. If you would like to find out if you are a victim of this crime, or if you're looking for a resource that will help you to prevent it, check this website (they have a lot of guides and tips on identity theft).
Why students are more vulnerable to it?
College campuses and towns are fertile ground for identity thieves. College students are more vulnerable in this regard, because, in most cases, they are unaware of what identity theft implies and of its consequences. With different credit offers coming their way and personal information requested from them, they are not prepared to protect themselves properly.
The most trivial way of obtaining one’s documents is stealing their valuable possessions, such as a wallet, purse, or laptop. It can happen to anyone anywhere, even in the dorm room, especially when there are many strangers attending college parties.
It is also easy to get access to one’s personal data from credit offers, which many students receive monthly. These forms contain just enough information for thieves to be useful. Usually, such forms are simply thrown away in the trash, where they can easily be retrieved by identity thieves. All that is left for them to do is to fill the rest of the blank fields and file the form in.
Another danger lies in the Social Security number. Many colleges use it as logins to websites that contain homework assignments or as an identifying number in an administration office.
Plus, public computers and unsecured public Wi-Fi networks are an ideal means for identity thieves to obtain your sensitive information.
Tips on how to prevent identity theft
Keep track of your credit history and take care of your credit cards. Read credit card and bank statements regularly. If you do not recognize one of the charges, dispute them as soon as possible. You can get a free credit report once a year from each of three major credit bureaus. More information about free credit reports can be found here. As a precaution, you can freeze your credit in order to limit access to your credit info. If your credit card gets misplaced, be sure to notify your credit card company.
Guard your Social Security number. Do not carry your card with you, use a driver’s license instead. Ask that your Social Security number not be used to post grades publicly. If your school uses it for your student ID, request an assigned number. Whenever asked for your Social Security number, inquire about the reason why it is needed and how it will be protected.
Keep all your documents in a safe place. Use a lockbox or a locked drawer in a desk to restrict access to your personal information.
Protect your computer from malware and use strong passwords. Install security software in order to avoid viruses and keep your programs updated. It is also a good idea to back up your information just in case. Be cautious when visiting unsecured websites and downloading free apps.
Strengthen your passwords by using random combinations of letters, figures, and special characters. Each account requires its own password, which should be changed frequently. You can use a password manager to store your passwords for you.
Stay away from public Wi-Fi. Such networks are not secure and when you use them, others may be able to see your data. It is better to use a VPN (virtual private network) or avoid entering any sensitive information.
Secure your wifi password. Make sure that your home wifi password cannot be easily guessed. If someone can gain access to your wifi, this makes you more vulnerable to attack. I’d recommend using a speed test from time to time to check if your internet download speed is performing as advertised. If it’s not, it may be a sign that someone else is using your network.
Be cautious about your mail. Collect your mail as soon as you can to reduce the chances of someone gaining access to it. Have your mail held if you’re out of town and submit a change of address beforehand when moving to make sure that your mail is not delivered to your old address. Put your outgoing mail directly in U.S Postal Service mailboxes or take it to the post office.
Use a shredder, a cross-cut one. Any papers or junk mail containing your personal information – credit card or bank statements, especially pre-approved credit card offers, and bills – should be shredded before disposal so no one can retrieve them. Strip-cut shreds are easier to assemble, that is why a cross-cut shredder is better for you.