how to avoid identity theft

Posted : May 5, 2009
Last Updated : April 17, 2014
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how to avoid identity theft

Identity theft is the fraudulent use of another person's unique identification and personal information for criminal gain. Students are the perfect prey for identity thieves because most students have unblemished credit. As a student or recent graduate, it is crucial to protect yourself from identity theft since it jeopardizes your financial future.

Risk Factors
Being a student makes you a prime target for identity theft because you:

  • Live in a dorm/apartment with roommates where your personal information can be easily obtained
  • Have to use your social security number often (i.e. school identification number, rental applications, credit card applications)
  • Socialize on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr where you may give out too much personal info (i.e. full name, address, birth date, information that leads a thief to guess your passwords, etc.)
  • Use unsecured Wi-Fi networks at the local coffee shop, campus library, etc.
  • Are still at the age where you have an "invincible mindset" and think identity theft won't happen to you

Protect Yourself
Follow these tips to keep protected from identity theft:

  • Utilize password protection. Adjust your computer settings to prompt for a password each time the computer is used. Make your password difficult to guess by using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Change your password every few months.
  • Stay smart when socializing. Don't reveal too much personal information when socializing on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Providing your full name, date of birth, physical address, email address, occupation, marital status, etc. gives scammers ample information to try and steal your identity. Check out Social Networking Sites: Etiquette and Safety for more tips on staying safe when socializing online.
  • Get educated about phishing and pharming scams. Phishing scams are attempts to steal personal information (i.e. usernames, passwords, credit card numbers) usually by sending emails advising you to visit bogus websites that only appear legitimate. Pharming is similar to phishing but a little more advanced. Pharming scams either use a virus/Trojan to modify the user's hosts file or poison a Domain Name Server by inserting false information into the server, which then results in the user's request being redirected to a bogus website. Banking and similar financial websites are usually the targets of these attacks. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston offers more information and some good tips on avoiding phishing and pharming scams.
  • Be cautious about sharing personal information. Never share information with anyone over the phone, email, or text, even if he/she claims to be someone from a company with whom you do business. Instead, ask for a call-back number. You should then contact the company's operator or call center and ask if they are trying to reach you for any reason.
  • Keep your computer secure. Because identity thieves like unprotected computers, it is crucial to perform steps to keep your computer secure. Avoid using peer-to-peer file sharing programs (Bearshare, Limewire, etc.) that can introduce spyware/adware into your computer and spread viruses and worms. Protect your computer from viruses by using anti-virus software and keep it updated. Run anti-spyware scans regularly to check for adware and spyware applications. Set your system to automatically run Windows or Mac software updates on a regular basis to prevent your computer from being infected. Install and run a personal firewall if your computer does not have one built in. Read Computer Security on Campus for more detailed information.
  • Guard your Social Security number. Keep your Social Security card in a safe place; don't carry it with you. If your school still uses Social Security numbers instead of unique student ID numbers for identification purposes, contact the registrar's office to inquire about obtaining a unique student ID number. When filling out applications that require your SSN (apartment rental applications, job applications, FAFSA, etc.), don't leave those documents lying around for anyone to see. Don't enter your SSN into unsecured websites.
  • Monitor your credit report. Be sure to review your credit report annually to look for any suspicious activity. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act gives everyone the right to receive their credit report from three credit bureaus, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, every 12 months. To receive your free credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com.
  • Hide your valuables. If you live in a dorm/apartment with roommates and always have people stopping by, be smart about your belongings. Never leave your wallet or purse in plain view. Keep your desk free from documents that may divulge personal info such as credit card statements, bank statements, etc. Instead, use a filing cabinet that has a lock for storing those personal documents. Don't conduct personal/financial business in front of roommates or visitors.
  • Use a shredder. Shred all paper documents (especially credit card offers) that contain personal information instead of just tossing them in the garbage. Use an online file shredder to completely delete old files from your computer that contain personal information. You can download file shredders online for free or for a small cost.

Identity theft can and does happen to students, so take appropriate steps to stay protected from such fraud. If you are ever a victim of identity theft, use these tips from the Federal Trade Commission to recover from this malicious act.


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