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Tips on identity theft for college students
AUSTIN -- College students often have many responsibilities to manage when it comes to school, work, and their social lives, which means identity theft and credit ratings often take a back seat to other priorities. However, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns that young adults are particularly vulnerable to identity theft and related crimes.
More than 250,000 people fell victim to identity theft in 2010, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. Of those, 24 percent were between the ages of 20 and 29. Another 8 percent were 19 years old and younger, meaning college-age students account for as much as one-quarter of all identity-theft victims.
Young adults are especially susceptible to friendly fraud -- fraud perpetrated by people known to the victim, such as a relative or roommate. Such crimes grew 7 percent overall last year, according to a report released by Javelin Strategy and Research.
Because college students are such common victims of identity theft, the 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.
• Don’t share too much on social networks.
Identity fraud was twice as common for people who have been on social networking sites for five years or more. Javelin research found those not using privacy settings on their networks were at a higher risk of exposing crucial information to fraudsters.
• Important documents should be securely stored. 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 that are not password-protected. Download updates to your antivirus and spyware software on a regular basis to keep your personal documents and information safe. Never use a shared computer workstation to pay bills or shop online.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.
To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit bbb.org.
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