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College Students: How to Protect Yourself from Identity Thieves

Aug 4, 2008
It should really be no surprise that since 2005, more than a third of the victims of identity theft in the United States are college students. That's because students rarely take precautions to protect themselves agains identity theft, because lots of people have potential access to their personal information, and because they are the recipients of a ton of credit card and other commercial junk mailings.

Todd Davis, the CEO of LifeLock, the nation's first identity theft prevention service for consumers, offered us these tips for parents and college-bound students to help protect them from becoming victims of identity thieves.

1. Before going off to campus, students should purchase a shredder and use it to destroy anything they may throw away that contains personal information about tem; report cards, financial aid forms, housing information, class schedules, etc. A good rule for students: if you aren't going to keep it in a secure file, shred it!

2. Residence hall rooms and student apartments often have lots of folks in them, including some relative strangers. That's why it makes sense to password protect computer files and secure documents which include your personal information. Remember, it takes only one untrustworthy person to steal your identity and cause you years of trouble.

3. Parents, have your son or daughter order a free credit report, and check it for problems. You can get one free report a year, and resolve any problems you identify.

4. In the most recent three years, more than two hundred universities, colleges, school districts and student lending organizations have lost personal information on nearly 9 million students, faculty, and staff. Despite increases in institutional security, social security numbers and other critical identifiers are lost or stolen at a steady pace. Thus, it makes sense to take steps to make sure you have protected your identity in the event your information becomes vulnerable to identity thieves.

5. Opt out of all junk mail, as soon as possible. Identity thieves can steal credit card offers from your mailbox or garbage (if you fail to shred), fill in the applications with your name and their address, and charge thousands of dollars of goods and services to you. It happens every day.

6. You can contact the major credit reporting services to initiate fraud alerts which means you will, at least in theory, be contacted before anyone is able to open a new account in your name. You must renew these alerts every 90 days, or you can hire a credit protection service to take care of it for you. Some such agencies will actually compensate you if anyone successfully steals your identity. One agency offers a guarantee of up to $1 million.

Taking a bit of time and exercising some caution to prevent identity theft is well worth the effort. Protect yourself by being cautious, aware, and alert.
About the Author
Daniel Z. Kane is a university dean who advises students on online college degree programs and online degree programs.
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