Posts

How to Protect Your College Student from Identity Theft on Campus

Five tips for better data and device  security habits at college

This fall, roughly 19.9 million college students will attend colleges and universities in the United States, and about 12.5 million of them will be under the age of 25. 

For many young adults, college isn’t just a transition to higher education, it’s a transition to living on their own and taking responsibility for their own finances, digital identity, credit score and banking information — all of which are critically important components of future success and security. 

As I wrote about back in 2010, College-Bound Students Are Vulnerable as Identity Theft Targets. So, parents, as you perform the ritual of shopping for dorm room supplies and stocking up on merch at the college bookstore, you should also be guiding your child through some key processes of establishing credit and safeguarding against identity theft on campus. I say guide because it’s tempting for parents to do the work themselves, but now is the time to step away from the snowplow and let your child learn to shovel their own road. In fact, it’s a good idea to start the process while your child is in high school.

Establish Credit

Educate your kids about starting to establish credit so they have it when they go to rent an apartment or buy a car. One of the simpler ways to do this is to have them apply for and use a student credit card with a small amount of credit. During this process (and any process like it), there are a series of security and privacy decisions that come into play. 

  • A great deal of personal information is collected, analyzed and sold by companies that prey upon naive college students. Make sure that, when applying, your child opts out of all information sharing possible. The minute or two spent changing the default settings (reading and unchecking the marketing and privacy boxes) will save the proliferation of their data down the road. 
  • Teach them to create a long and strong password (preferably with a password manager) that is unique on every website. 
  • Register for automatic account alerts when a sizeable amount of money is transferred, deposited or due so they have a daily view of their balances and activity. 
  • Have them turn on two-factor authentication to eliminate a majority of account takeover by cyber criminals. 
  • Teach them to monitor and reconcile their accounts monthly. 

Freeze Credit

Once your student has opened a credit card account, they should freeze their credit with the three primary credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. This simple and free step is one of the greatest ways to protect their data and their future buying and credit power. 

Be Street Smart

Aside from protecting their cyber identity, students need to take precautions to protect their physical identity and important documents. 

  • Have sensitive physical documents (bank, legal, personal, FAFSA, applications, etc.) sent to a permanent address (e.g., parents’ home).
  • Leave your Social Security card, passport and other documents in a permanent, off-campus location (e.g., parents’ home in a fireproof and waterproof box or a bank safe deposit box).
  • Shred any important financial documents that come in the mail and never leave sensitive mail lying out.
  • Always lock your dorm room door and don’t leave devices unlocked or unattended in a gym locker, the library or a classroom.
  • Check for unusual devices added to ATMs that might be skimming card info.
  • Always cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN, whether at an ATM or a retail store.

Secure Devices

Make sure your student has long and strong passwords on their phones, tablets and laptops and that they don’t share them unless absolutely necessary. There are more than 100 privacy and security settings on the average phone; students need to take the time to customize them and lock down their data. 

Watch this video on How to Bulletproof Against a Stolen Smartphone

Here’s a detailed list of how to secure devices at college.

  • Don’t leave your laptop in an unattended car or in a public place (library, dining room, classroom).
  • Register your laptop with campus security if possible.
  • Install laptop tracking software (e.g., Find My iPhone, Lojak) and enable Find My iPhone on the device.
  • Spend time locking down the privacy and security settings on your smartphone — you won’t believe what you’re giving away for free and how damaging it can be.
  • Don’t store personal information (SSN, passwords, etc.) in unencrypted files or insecurely in the cloud.
  • Securely back up your files on a remote hard drive or a trusted cloud provider (iDrive, iCloud, Carbonite) in case your data is lost or frozen by ransomware.
  • Lock your phone screen with at least a 6-digit passcode — the longer, the safer.
  • Be mindful of malware and ransomware “updates” from untrusted sources.
  • Be suspicious of communal workstations in dorms, libraries, etc. Never log in to websites with usernames and passwords unless you’re certain the computer is secure and won’t save your information.
  • Turn on automatic computer operating systems, software and mobile app updates.
  • Encrypt your laptop (Apple: FileVault, Windows: BitLocker) and smartphone (by using a strong password).
  • Don’t take or store sensitive or embarrassing photos on your devices, as they are commonly exposed by hackers, friends or former girlfriends and boyfriends.
  • Invest in strong security software with anti-virus, spyware and ransomware protection, even if you own an Apple.
  • Don’t discard or sell old devices without professionally wiping them of all data and removing or erasing all SIM cards.
  • Don’t insert strange storage devices (i.e., USB drives) and only insert such devices from friends or administration after scanning them for viruses.

Be Social Media Smart

According to Pew Research, in 2018, 90% of adults between 18 and 24 used the YouTube app, 76% used Facebook and 75% used Instagram. Our kids are spending a lot of time on social media, and all those platforms are collecting data — and selling it to advertisers. Unfortunately, cyber criminals are also accessing that data and using it to commit crimes or simply selling it on the dark web.

The default setting on social media platforms is to share everything, so students should start by un-defaulting their privacy settings. This one action will put them in the top 1% of savvy social media users. This blog post from last year explains the 6 Ways Your Facebook Privacy Is Compromised. Beyond that, teach your child to be careful about who they friend and what they share on social media. 

You can find more tips on how you and your student can lock down social media accounts, as well as how to protect student data and devices on campus, in The Data Privacy & Security Checklist for College Students  (PDF).

As you send your child off to college this fall, arm them with the knowledge and power to keep their identity safe — in both the real world and online. Most importantly, let them know that it’s okay to ask for help from you, the university or a trusted advisor.


About Cybersecurity Keynote Speaker John Sileo

John Sileo is an award-winning author and keynote speaker on cybersecurity, identity theft and tech/life balance. He energizes conferences, corporate trainings and main-stage events by making security fun and engaging. His clients include the Pentagon, Schwab and organizations of all sizes. John got started in cybersecurity when he lost everything, including his $2 million business, to cybercrime. Since then, he has shared his experiences on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper, and even while cooking meatballs with Rachel Ray. Contact John directly to see how he can customize his presentations to your audience.

Roommate Identity Theft? Beware and Be Wise

It’s time for young adults to head off to college or move away from home for the first time. This is by far the highest risk group for identity theft for several reasons.  When these kids leave the nest, it’s the first time they are getting true financial independence, which they might never have been trained to handle.  They have access to credit cards, new bank accounts, and they’re managing it themselves.  That may be a huge red flag that there’s going to be trouble.  Secondly, they’re going into an environment where their stuff is not particularly protected.  They’re in a dorm room or apartment, they’ve got roommates that may need extra cash; they know they can take advantage of them.  So it’s a high risk environment.  The third reason is because they do so much online.  There’s so much social media interaction and that’s where tons of information is stolen. Take the steps listed below and talk to your newly-independent kids about implementing them.  It will help them out not just this year but will also help them build their financial future going forward.  Your identity is pretty much everything in terms of your net worth. You’ve got to take care of it now.

  • Secure Your Information: invest in a safe box and lock up any documents that contain private information such as bills, bank statements, checks, and credit card info.
  • Be Wise with the Information You Share: it’s our nature to trust our friends, family and roommates but they’re often the very people who assume your identity and wreak havoc with your financial future. Don’t make reference to any information that might be used as part of a password such as your mother’s maiden name, a childhood pet’s name, or the street on which you were born. That could be just the key that unlocks a private account.
  • Use Secure Passwords and Don’t Share Them: It’s vital to create secure passwords using upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Be careful when logging in to inadvertently share your password with others (shoulder surfers).
  • User Paperless Billing or Get a P.O. Box: you’ll be sure to keep bills, bank statements and other personal information private if your roommate has no access to them.
  • Be Careful When Conducting Personal Business: wait until you are alone to call your bank to resolve an account issue or log into your student loan website.
  • Log Out of Accounts: if you share a computer, protect your personal accounts with passwords and always close your session by logging out. Though it might be convenient, don’t let your computer store user names or passwords. Keep personal computers locked and password protected when they aren’t in use.
  • Beware of Friends of Friends: roommates aren’t your only risk when living with others; remember that although you may have chosen your roommate, you haven’t chosen their friends and you can’t vouch for their integrity. If your roommate has no access to your private information, neither will their friends.

Your credit rating, your financial future, ability to borrow, job opportunities, even a criminal record can all be affected by identity theft. Why take the risk? Do everything in your power to protect your most valuable asset, your identity. Don’t become a victim of “friendly fraud.”

John Sileo is an award-winning author and international speaker on the dark art of deception (identity theft, data privacy, social media manipulation) and its polar opposite, the powerful use of trust, to achieve success. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which advises teams on how to multiply performance by building a culture of deep trust. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, the FDIC, and Homeland Security. Sample his Keynote Presentation (he shares how he lost $300,000, 2 years and his business to data breach) or watch him on Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes or Fox Business. 1.800.258.8076.

College Identity Theft Speaker

I’ve got a neighbor who’s going back to college this week and reminds me that this is by far the highest risk group for identify theft and it’s for a couple of reasons.  When these kids are going off to college, it’s the first time they are getting true financial independence, which might never have been trained to handle.  They have access to credit cards, to new bank accounts, and they’re managing it themselves.  That’s a huge red flag that there’s going to be trouble.  Number two, they’re going into an environment where their stuff is not particularly protected.  They’re in a dorm room, they’ve got roommates that may need extra cash; they know they can take advantage of them.  So it’s kind of a high risk environment.  The third reason is because they do so much online.  There’s so much social media interaction and that’s where ton of information is stolen. So you need to take some of these steps that are in this blog post.  Help your students take them.  It will help them out not just this year in college but helping them build their financial future going forward.  Your identity is pretty much everything in terms of your net worth. You got to take care of it now.

John speaks professionally about social media privacy and identity theft to college students.

College Students Destroy Financial Future with Poor Choices

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.