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How College Students Can Avoid Identity Theft

Each year, some 15 million Americans are the victims of identity theft, costing them upward of $50 billion in financial losses, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This makes it one of the most wide-ranging and costly crimes in modern life.

What makes it most frightening is that everyone is at risk. Although you may think that this crime mostly affects the elderly and the careless, it hits every segment of the population. If a criminal gets someone’s name, address, bank account, online password and Social Security number — or any combination thereof — that person can become a victim. And students heading off to college need to be especially careful to keep their identities safe. Here’s how:

The Blank Slate Risk

In many ways, college students are more prone to attacks. Older professionals are accustomed to looking at their bank accounts regularly and notice when something is awry. But when ID thieves hit 18-year-old students who are not gainfully employed, they aren’t looking to drain his or her bank account. Instead, identity thieves tend to falsify forms to open new lines of credit in their names unbeknownst to them. And since they have little or no other lines of credit and may not apply for any loans for years, perpetrators can get away with their crime for a long time before it is uncovered.

Identity theft monitoring is a good idea for those with little established credit. This also means that parents need to teach their kids the importance of using strong passwords. There is no longer any excuse to simply use your favorite sports team’s name, your phone number or any word that is in the dictionary. Instead, use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols that are difficult to crack.

Long-Lasting Effects for Teens

The effects of identity theft can be worse for students who are victimized. If a 55-year-old accountant falls prey to a perpetrator, he or she likely has plenty to fall back on: a home, a vehicle, a good job and a well-documented financial history. But when an 18-year-old has his or her financial future ruined, it can take years to fix the problems. With no established record to prove he or she can pay back debts, it can be nearly impossible to get loans or credit in the future.

Other Vulnerabilities

Students are at a greater risk for other reasons, too. Their environment and behavioral tendencies typically mean they are less careful with their personal information, and thus easier to exploit. For one, they live on a campus and with roommates — sometimes dozens of them if they live in a frat house or other group setting. While many people think that all identity theft comes from data breaches or hackers, it can be as simple as someone improperly disposing of bank account information. And in a dorm room, cards and documents are often easily accessible to anyone that is tempted to steal an identity.

Young people also tend to be careless. Students are less likely than older people to shred credit card offers or other sensitive documents. Students need to properly discard any papers that contain personal information of any kind. Even though they probably don’t have access to a shredder in a dorm room, scissors can work just as well.

Lastly, students are more apt to make online purchases and are less vigilant about protecting their privacy online. Those who grew up with the Internet don’t fear it in the same way that baby boomers do. But unfortunately, one misstep in which they put their ATM card number on the wrong website can cost them dearly. The same thing goes for social media. Students should not be too willing to share personal information with strangers just in case.

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