College is the perfect period of life to begin sound financial practices including protecting privacy. Not only are college students vulnerable, but they are impressionable and well positioned to learn strong habits that will last them a lifetime. As students launch into independence, we, as parents, hope to give them the best tools possible to insure a bright future. One of the most vital tools is to establish healthy habits that will guard their financial and personal identities for the rest of their lives. People ages 18 -24 are the least able to spot identity theft according to the BBB. That age group needed more than four months to realize someone had damaged their credit history or used their identity. By taking a few precautions, a young adult can avoid the crushing job of trying to recover from having given away the keys to their financial future, which is especially overwhelming while navigating life away from home for the first time.
Identity thieves don’t care a whit if the student has a dime – they just want a clean financial record in order to commit crimes using their credit and future buying power. Unfortunately, thieves are often someone the student trusts: a friend, dorm mate, co-worker, or someone who poses as a sanctioned person on campus. Identity thieves may use personal information to open credit card accounts, access financial accounts, rent an apartment or even commit larger cases of fraud, implicating the student. Here are some tips to get you and your student started down the road to protecting their financial future:
- Have all sensitive mail sent to parents’ homes only. School mailboxes are not secure and are easily accessed in a dorm or apartment.
- Store Social Security cards, passports, bank statements, credit card statements and other important documents in a small fire safe in their dorm.
- As soon as you are done with any documents that have financial information (financial account statements, medical bills, insurance forms, charge receipts, university tuition payments), shred the documents rather than putting them in the trash in order to foil dumpster divers.
- Set up account alerts with your credit card companies and banks to notify you via email whenever a transaction occurs. Because it is fresh in your mind, it takes only a few seconds to verify the transaction unlike weeks later when you try to recall each transaction while paying your bill or reconciling your bank statement.
- Always check credit card bills and bank statements and question unknown purchases. The sooner you catch a breach, the less likely you’ll have complicated financial ramifications.
- Limit the applications you load on your smartphone or tablet. Many of these apps siphon data off of your device back to unwanted companies and individuals.
- Never loan a credit or debit card to anyone, even your best friend. Don’t co-sign a loan for a friend as you will be responsible for missed payments.
- Date of birth is one of the key pieces of information that many companies use to confirm identity. Refrain from sharing your correct date of birth on Facebook or any place online. Friends who you want to know your birthday should learn that from you personally. Even putting only the month and day is risky as it’s pretty easy to ascertain the year based on your profile.
- Use long passwords with a mix of letters, numbers and characters (e.g., &63DB4x%gX); According to Gibson Research, a password that is 10 characters is vastly harder to crack than one containing nine characters. If you need help remembering them, use a password protection program.
- Update antivirus and spyware software on personal computers. Identity thieves rely on special programs, transferred to personal laptops and computers from numerous websites, to duplicate people’s passwords, user ID’s and bank account information.
- Check credit reports for free three times a year at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Request a report from a different credit union every four months and you’ve got the year covered.
- Get off mailing lists for pre-approved credit offers, which are a goldmine for identity thieves. To opt out of financial junk mail, call 888-5-OPTOUT or visit www.OptOutPreScreen.com to remove your name from national lists. Be prepared to provide your Social Security number (in this case, that is a risk worth taking).
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails or postings on social media. In addition to installing malware on your computer, many of them are phishing schemes that trick you into entering your Social Security number, user name or account passwords.
- Never give out financial or account information to unsolicited callers, even if they say they are from your bank (you are not in control of the call when it’s incoming).
- Do not share phone numbers or list your residence hall names and/or floor number designations online – or anyplace. Identity thieves frequently show up on campus pretending to represent a legitimate company, possibly using the school’s logo or colors on the credit card. Once the scammers get students’ personal information, they can then use it themselves or sell it for a profit.
Heartily impress upon your students (and yourself!) to guard identity with a vengeance and save untold time and money attempting recovery. Doing so might be the most profitable education they receive.