Back to school is here and your BBB serving Central California wants to give college students tips on preventing identity theft. College students often have many responsibilities to manage when it comes to school, work, and their social lives, which means identity theft is the last thing on their minds. The Central California BBB wants you to know that young adults are more likely to be vulnerable to identity theft and such related crimes.
If you’re wondering what identity theft is it’s one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, costing victims more than $5 billion annually. Identity theft occurs when a person uses your personal information such as your social security number and date of birth with the intent to commit fraud or to aid an unlawful activity. Once a thief has your personal information, he might open new credit card accounts in your name, apply for government benefits, open bank accounts in your name to write bad checks or take out a loan in your name.
Imagine graduating from college with thousands of dollars of unauthorized debt and a wrecked credit rating all because someone stole your identity. Of the almost 675,000 identity theft complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission in 2012, 31 percent were filed by young adults.
As a college student, they may be vulnerable to identity theft because of the availability of personal information and the way many students handle this data. BBB recommends taking a few simple steps to protect your identity:
• Secure your mail. Campus mailboxes are often easily accessed in a dorm or apartment. Have sensitive mail sent to a permanent address such as your parents’ home or invest in a secure post office box.
• Check your credit and debit card statements frequently. Look for any suspicious activity or purchases. The sooner you identify potential fraud, the sooner any fraudulent charges can be refunded to you.
• Check your credit report at least once a year. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion each offer a free credit report once a year. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to request a report and look for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies.
• Store important documents should be securely. This includes your social security card, passport and bank and credit card statements. Shred all paper documents that contain sensitive financial information and any credit card offers that come in the mail.
• Never loan your credit or debit card to anyone. If you feel the need to pay for a friend’s meal or a tank of gas, go with them instead. Avoid co-signing for a loan or other financing.
• Make sure your computer software is up to date. Many public Wi-Fi systems can be susceptible to hackers, especially those not password-protected.
• Start with trust. When shopping on unfamiliar websites, always check for the BBB Accredited Business seal and click to confirm it is legitimate. If there’s no seal, check the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org.