If you're straight out of high school and entering college, your college years are an important time to build your credit. However, because students are concerned about making the grade, they might be neglecting to ensure they are protected from identity heft.
About 1 in 5 reports about potential identity theft came from consumers age 20 to 29, according to a 2013 report by the Federal Trade Commission. These college-age adults might be at risk for financial fraud because they are unsure about their credit history and are unaware of the signs of identity theft.
Even before they start their college journey, teens might have already been victims of identity theft. Identity thieves often target young people to steal their information because of their clean credit history. Additionally, children and teens might not know they were victims of identity theft until they apply for their first loan or credit card, which might be years after the thieves exploit this stolen information.
Here are five steps to protect yourself from identity theft during college:
1. Check Your Credit History
Rather than wait until you decide to apply for a car loan or credit card, you should actively check your credit history for any inaccuracies or errors. The Better Business Bureau recommends requesting your credit report from one of the three credit reporting bureaus and reviewing any suspicious activity that may appear. These include new lines of credit that have been opened in your name as well as any missed payments on utility or credit card bills. If you encounter these activities on your credit report and were unaware of them, you should contact your financial institutions about potential fraud.
2. Password Protect Your Devices
When packing for college, you'll probably have your laptop or other mobile technology with you. As you carry your devices to class or the library, be sure to set a password. In the event your smartphone or laptop is stolen, it will be harder for thieves to access your information stored on these devices. To make a strong password, use a combination of lower and upper case letters, numbers and special characters.
3. Store Your Personal Documents Safely
While you might need to carry a Social Security card with you to apply for an on-campus job, you should consider leaving any documents containing your personal information at home. Avoid carrying your Social Security card as thieves often use the number on the card plus your date of birth to open new lines of credit. When you need to store your personal documents safely, choose to put them either in a lockbox or even leave them at your parent's home.
4. Do Not Share Sensitive Information
College is often considered a time to make life-long friends. Although you might share the most awkward or embarrassing stories with friends, avoid telling them sensitive information about you regarding financial or payment card data. When it comes to paying for a pizza delivery or food at a convenience store, do not hand your debit or credit card to a friend.
5. Be Aware of Signs of Phishing
While your computer might have software designed to guard against malware and other threats, you should learn how to recognize another major security risk: phishing. Cybercriminals might send you emails pretending to be from a legitimate company or even your college or university's IT department asking you for your password. Do not respond to these emails as they are likely emails sent to steal your information or gain access to college networks.
With your college years ahead of you, use these tips to avoid identity theft and continue to build your credit in college and beyond.