Identity thieves will often target college students because they have minimal transaction histories and have just started building their credit. The lack of history also makes it harder to pinpoint unusual account activity. Another reason identity thieves prey on students is because they typically have better credit scores. The higher the credit score, the easier it is for scammers to take out a loan, create an account or open a new credit card.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2017 the number of consumers who reported that their stolen data was used for credit card fraud on their existing accounts increased by 20 percent. In addition, student loan fraud rose more than 120 percent from the previous year.
Identity thieves will use a variety of high- and low-tech strategies to steal students’ personal information. They include “shoulder surfing,” the practice of spying on the user of an ATM, computer, or other electronic device to obtain their personal access information and phishing schemes that ask for detailed personal and financial information for tax-related, financial, medical and criminal identity theft.
Here is how students can protect themselves:
- Guard your personally identifiable information. Social Security numbers, ATM codes, and computer passcodes should only be shared on a need-to-know basis. Never carry your Social Security card and driver’s license together or lend your ATM or credit card to anyone.
- Be careful when sending important documents by mail. Avoid having important documents sent where mail might not be secure, such as dormitories and off-campus apartments. Instead students should use a permanent address such as their parents’ home or a post office box.
- Sign up for transaction alerts. Review your bank account and credit card statements regularly. Free credit monitoring services can also help catch suspicious transactions, such as someone trying to make changes to your account or fraudulent purchases.
- Use a strong password. Make your passwords long and complex. Avoid common words and use a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Be sure to use different passwords for each of your accounts.
- Avoid making payments by public Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi hotspots in public places are convenient, but often not secure. To protect your information when using Wi-Fi, only send information through sites that are fully encrypted and avoid using mobile apps that require personal or financial information.
- Be savvy on social media. Oversharing and not adequately protecting access to electronic devices are some of the most common mistakes made by students. Scammers can mine social media posts for information that could help them get past account security questions on various sites.