Thieves use high- and low-tech strategies to steal personal information
College students and their parents probably don’t spend much time worrying about identity theft when they think about navigating the minefields of university life. But as students head back to school this fall, they should take precautions to prevent their identities from being stolen.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were more than 399,000 complaints about identity theft filed in 2016. That was down 3 percent from a year earlier, but there was a jump in consumers who reported that their stolen data was used for credit card fraud, from nearly 16 percent in 2015 to more than 32 percent in 2016.
An even more disturbing report from Javelin Strategy and Research found that 22 percent of students in 2014 (the latest data available) were notified that they had been a victim of identity-theft fraud after they were denied credit or contacted by a debt collector. That’s three times higher than average fraud victims. Moreover, students were four times more likely to be taken advantage of by someone they know compared with other consumers, according to Javelin.
Identity thieves use a variety of low- and high-tech strategies to steal a student’s personal information. They include “shoulder surfing,” in which a criminal looks over a victim’s shoulder to see his or her ATM personal identification number, and sending out bogus credit card offers that ask for detailed information.
Guard your numbers. Personal information that could be used by fraudsters, such as Social Security numbers, ATM codes, and computer pass codes, should be given to people only on a need-to-know basis, and to as few people as possible. Never carry your Social Security card and driver’s license together, and never lend an ATM or credit card to anyone.
Be careful sending important documents by mail. Don’t send important documents to dormitories and off-campus apartments where mail might not be secure.
Avoid public WiFi. Don’t pay bills on public computers in libraries, and try not to use public WiFi connections, which may not be secure.
Be savvy on social media. Many students are so comfortable sharing their lives on such sites as Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat that they give away too much information too easily. Meredith Krisher, Security/Process Improvement Manager with Ohio State’s Student Life Technology Services, notes that fraudsters can mine social media posts for information that could help them get past account security questions on various sites.
“Trusting, oversharing, and not adequately protecting access to their electronic devices are probably the most common mistakes that students make with regards to disseminating their personal information on social media,” Krisher says.