For college freshmen leaving home for the first time, summer can be a frenzied time of shopping for dorm room essentials, packing up clothes and saying goodbye to high school friends. In the midst of this hustle and bustle, parents need to make time to talk to their students about money and protecting themselves against identity theft while they’re on or off campus during the pandemic.
Thieves see young students as desirable victims because they usually have clean credit records — and they also may not know how to detect scams. Some students may leave sensitive papers in plain sight or they may forget to lock their dorm room doors. Theft by someone they know — even a roommate — is often more of a problem than hackers committing a data breach.
According to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for 2019, reports of federal student loan fraud increased by 188 percent while reports of non-federal student loan fraud increased by 74 percent. FTC records showed that credit card fraud rose by 88 percent. Those records also showed that younger people (ages 20-29) lose money to fraud more frequently than older consumers, with a median loss of $448.
Students just starting out on their own are especially vulnerable to fraud and identity theft. A few smart steps can help them protect themselves and establish good habits for life.
BBB recommends that college-bound students take the following steps to fight identity theft on campus:
• School mailboxes are not always secure and often can be accessed easily in a dorm or apartment. To combat sticky fingers in the mailroom, have sensitive mail sent to a permanent address, such as a parent’s home or a post office box.
• Important documents should be stored under lock and key. This includes your Social Security card, passport and bank and credit card statements. Shred any paper documents that have sensitive financial information rather than just tossing them out. Also shred any credit card offers that come in the mail.
• Never lend your credit or debit card to anyone, even if they are a friend. Just say no if your friend wants you to cosign for a loan or financing for items like a TV.
• Make sure your computer, laptop or tablet has up-to-date antivirus and anti-spyware software. Always install any updates and patches to your computer’s operating system or browser software, which help keep your computer safe from new schemes or hacks by identity thieves online.
• Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. The sooner you identify any potential fraud, the less you’ll suffer in the long run. Getting your statements online is more secure, but make sure you actually look at the statements.
• When shopping on unfamiliar websites, always check the company out first with BBB at bbb.org. Look for a website with the padlock on the page and “https” in the URL web address box. Also, look for trustmarks on websites like BBB’s seal.
• Check your credit report at least once a year with all three reporting bureaus for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies. You can do this for free by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
Michelle Gleba is the Mid-Missouri regional director for Better Business Bureau.