Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Identity Theft 101: Removing the Target from College Students

According to various studies, including the FTC complaint study, the 18-29-year-old age bracket continues to account for almost 30% of all identity theft complaints. Nowadays, it's not enough to send your college freshman to school with a laptop, cell phone, books and clean clothes. A cross-cut shredder and a locking box large enough to hold a laptop, loaded with current computer security software, are equally important. These protective measures, while seemingly insignificant, are critical steps in protecting your teen's belongings and personal identifying information.

It is also vital to arm them with information about identity theft, scams and other rip-offs they might encounter while living on their own for the first time. The Identity Theft Resource Center offers these tips for college students of all ages. Many of them can be found at the "Teen Space" on the ITRC website: .

-- Keep your Social Security card and number in a locked safe place. Do not carry it with you. Don't share it with anyone without knowing why they need it. Most schools now use a student identification number instead of the SSN. Parents, please note: This may be one factor to consider when choosing a college.

-- Store your laptop in a locking security box when you are not in the room and do not have it with you.

-- Use your home address as the permanent mailing address rather than a temporary address used while in school. This will lessen the complications of multiple addresses. Dorm and apartment mailboxes are not always locked and are easily accessible by people who do not have your best interest in mind.

-- Obtain and use a credit card and NOT a debit card. Credit cards may be pre-paid or have a low limit, if you so choose. Debit cards are targets for identity thieves. Check your monthly statements as they come in and look for unexplained expenses.

-- Never supply a phone, in your name, to someone else, i.e. a friend or roommate. The reason they cannot get a phone is probably because they have bad credit to start in the first place. The chances of being paid back are slim.

-- Never loan a credit or debit card to a friend. Again, the reason they cannot get a card is probably because they have bad credit. Co-signing for any cell phone, utility account, car loan or credit card puts you at major, unwarranted risk.

-- Never loan your driver's license or identification card to anyone. They could use it as an ID card when stopped by the police and you will be listed as the offender.

-- Once you have established credit, check your credit report annually using the program. The reports are free. If you have never established credit, you will be told there is no report. If there is a report, check it out and make sure that none of the information is a result of fraudulent activity.

-- Parents: Talk with your college-bound student about blogging, scams, and tricks con artists use to get Social Security numbers, bank account or credit account numbers and other private information including date and county of birth. Identity thieves could use this information to create a new identity or steal using the information given to them.

"All parents with teens or college-bound young adults need to make sure that their teens understand identity theft," encourages Rex Davis, ITRC Operations Director and a parent of two. "I sent my kids to college to help them with their futures. I would be remiss if I failed to educate them about the fastest growing crime today. A college degree doesn't mean much if an identity thief has put your child's credit score in the garbage and affected their ability to get credit or a job."

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