Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the United States. Meaning anyone – including you, a college kid – is vulnerable to identity theft.
Stealing someone’s identity isn’t just about money and credit. These types of thieves are after your name and reputation, too. About 8 million people are affected by identity theft every year; costing American’s over $50 billion in fraudulent charges.
How would someone steal your identity, you ask?
If someone has access to any one item of personal information: your Social Security number, your driver’s license, your birth certificate or any other identifying piece of information, and they’re a bad person, they can steal your identity.
With this info, they can establish credit accounts, loans, go on expensive shopping sprees – all in YOUR name. And guess what… YOU are responsible for all those fraudulent charges.
When your identity is stolen, you’re likely to end up with a large sum of debt, you could be denied a loan for a car and your credit gets damaged. Not good when you’re just stepping off the boat into adulthood.
Why am I, a college student, so vulnerable?
Just starting out in the big, wide world of good (and bad) people around you, you just may not have the experience to know how identity thieves operate.
That’s understandable. You spent most of your life already working hard to get where you are. You’ve learned a lot, but there’s still more to learn.
1. Like knowing that if you throw away those pre-approved credit offers you get in the mail, a thief can pick it out of the trash, fill in the blanks and send it in like it’s you.
2. Or not realizing the importance of balancing your bank account. Often, identity thieves will withdraw small amounts from your account to be sly. You probably won’t notice it’s happening until it’s too late.
3. Or even using your Social Security number to access your homework online and then forgetting your laptop in the cafeteria or having someone look over your shoulder in the library.
4. Or having your wallet, purse or backpack stolen. Like if your roommate’s friend (who you don’t know) comes into your dorm room when you’re not there!
Stay safe from identity theft
Easy, everyday practices are your best defense. If you can avoid identity theft, that’s one less thing to worry about. Because we know that life in college has enough worries.
Here’s how to NEVER be a victim of identity theft:
• Shred all your important documents. Don’t just toss them in the trash. That means bank statements, credit card offers, prescription drug containers and anything else that has your Social Security number or other identifying information.
• Don’t leave these documents laying around your dorm room or apartment either where someone could come in and take them.
• Use secure passwords for all online accounts and never use the same password twice. Best to use a password manager like LastPass or Encryptr.
• Only purchase things online from websites in which the URL begins with https:// The “s” here is very important to look for. If it just says http:// it means the site is NOT secure.
• Never click on any link in an email from a sender you don’t recognize. This is very likely a phishing scam.
• Keep your Social Security number in a very safe place. Never carry it around. Be very cautious in who you give it to. Apply the same precautions with your Student ID, too.
Oh, no! You were a victim!? What to do now
If you suspect that someone has stolen your identity, notify your bank and close your accounts, then notify the local police (they will begin an investigation), and then notify the three credit reporting bureaus.
One last thing
Never assume that identity theft won’t happen to you. Remember that it’s the fastest growing crime in America! Be vigilant and be smart. You want college to be a great experience, not one dealing with the insane consequences of identity theft.
Credit for Justin Lavelle
Justin Lavelle is Chief Communications Officer at BeenVerified (the leading source of online background checks and contact information). BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses, property records and criminal records in a way that’s fast, easy and affordable. https://www.