College students can be more susceptible to identity theft than the general population. Young college students may not have much experience with handling financial matters such as bills, credit cards, insurance, paperwork, and protecting their personally identifiable identification (PII). And with rising education costs, it can be tempting to look for (or take advantage of) chances to save on educational costs by applying for scholarships or refinancing opportunities. There are common scams that collect your PII for an application only to use it to open credit in your name.
A few important tips and everyday precautions you take can help promote identity protection and prevent identity fraud, saving you time, hassle, money, worry, and mental anguish.
- Use cash for enhanced identity theft protection. Using credit and debit cards—rather than cash—makes you more susceptible to identity theft, particularly around the holidays, when identity thieves like to attach card readers to busy retail checkout lines to get your information. Debit cards, in particular, provide less protection than credit cards.
- Keep credit and debit cards, your Social Security card, and other confidential account information in a safe or preferably locked place so roommates and visitors to your dorm, apartment, or home aren’t tempted to make a purchase or open new cards in your name.
- Keep your address, birthday, and other personal data off public resumes and social media channels because this information can be combined with financial records to commit identity fraud.
- Check your account balances and transactions online at least a few times a week to ensure there are no unauthorized charges. The sooner you notice any fraudulent activity and report lost or stolen cards, the less damage is done.
- Change your passwords frequently, and don’t use something that’s too obvious for others to guess. Don’t use the same password for everything in case someone does figure it out. If you can’t remember a bunch of passwords, there are several password managers you can use to store your passwords and then make the master password something you’ll remember!
- Criminals love public wi-fi, and college students love shopping and banking online. Using public wi-fi when making purchases, banking, or doing other online activity that exposes your personal information is just asking for trouble. Don’t do it; wait until you’re on private, secure wi-fi!
- Rather than using public charging ports in airports, conference centers, or parks, use a portable USB battery pack or buy USB cords that don’t have wires to transmit data. If a port you plug into is compromised, a hacker could access your email, photos, texts, and contacts.
- Be cautious about applying for offers you receive about scholarships and refinancing opportunities. Before you share any personal data, research the website and company to be sure there are no consumer complaints or scams associated with them. You can check out companies first with your local Better Business Bureau.
- Take advantage of the opportunity to obtain a free credit report—from all credit reporting agencies—on an annual basis and make sure you take action to quickly remove or correct any inaccurate information.
- Shred receipts, important documents, and statements. It may seem inconvenient and unnecessary, but there are people who actually pick through people’s trash to get confidential information.
- When purchasing anything online, make sure the website is legitimate and uses secure transaction encryption before sharing PII and payment information. The URL of the website should begin with https and there should be a lock icon in the web address field. Be wary of links you receive from unsolicited emails or texts, which will often take you to unsecured lookalike sites that may try to steal your information; it’s best to look up and enter the URL for a legitimate website yourself rather than using a provided link.
If Your Identity Has Been Compromised
If anyone tries to open debt in your name, immediately inform each of the credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) that the attempt was fraudulent.
If you believe your identity has been compromised, contact each of the credit reporting agencies separately to learn more and consider putting a temporary freeze on your credit.
Remember, you also won’t be able to open new accounts or access your credit while the freeze is in place.
Nelnet Bank does not provide legal, investment, tax, or financial advice. This page and the information contained herein is for informational purposes only. This content is not meant to address the circumstances of any particular individual. Nothing contained in this article constitutes a recommendation or endorsement by Nelnet Bank. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consult with a qualified professional.