Back to School: Your Identity Theft and Credit Checklist

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As you head off to college, there are probably already plenty of items on your To Do list. This school year, however, it's important to understand how identity theft and credit theft work--and how to protect yourself so that your future remains as bright and golden as it is right now. Unfortunately, colleges are filled with young people celebrating new adulthood--and as a result, you might not yet know how to navigate the dangers of identity theft. Consider some of these common dangers:

  • As you move around throughout your college years, your mail might be sent to an old address of yours. Someone else may get access to important information that was supposed to be sent to you.

  • College students must use personally identifying documents, including birth certificates and social security cards, to register for school. Leaving these documents lying around can result in identity theft.

  • Your digital information might be on your school’s public network. Improper security on your devices could result in privacy disaster.

Want to be sure that you're protecting yourself as much as possible? Make sure you are following these important steps. 

1. Check Your Antivirus Software

Quick: what antivirus software are you running on your phone? What about your computer: are you absolutely sure that it's secured? On a college campus, you have access to public WiFi shared with hundreds, if not thousands, of other students on a daily basis. It's critical, therefore, that you're taking the steps necessary to secure your devices. Make sure you have updated antivirus software on any device you'll connect to the internet, including your phone, tablet, and computer. 

2. Create Unique Passwords

As you settle into college life, you'll have to create a number of new accounts--and assign them passwords. This is the perfect time to think about password security. If you're still using the email address you created in middle school and an old password that's not as secure as it could be, now is an important time for a change! Don't forget to assign different passwords to different accounts: your PayPal account, for example, should have a very different password from your email.

3. Purchase a Lock Box

You may have to provide information like your social security number or a copy of your birth certificate to register for college. You will certainly need your social security card to take a new job on or near your campus. If you're used to your parents taking care of those documents for you, make sure you understand how to keep them secure. A lock box or other secure location should always be used to store your private documents. 

4. Really Think About What You Keep on Your Phone

Many people now use their phones for everything, including banking. How many passwords do you keep stored on your device? How much personal information could someone who stole your phone access with just the press of a few buttons? Depending on the apps you have installed on your phone, access to it could leave someone with extensive access to your private, personal data, including access to your bank account. While you may appreciate the convenience of those apps, make sure that they are fully protected. Use a password to get past your phone's lock screen, and don't share that password with anyone. 

5. Learn About Common Scams

You grew up around technology, and chances are, you're already familiar with many common scams. There are, however, several scams that are designed expressly to prey on college students. Tuition scams, or claims that you're behind on your tuition and face expulsion if you don't catch up quickly, could send anyone scrambling into a panic. Fake credit card offers may seem incredibly tempting, but ultimately result in you providing your private information to someone who will instead use them to steal your identity. You may also find that some organizations claim to offer great deals for students heading off to college, but charge outrageous fees before they will help you--and ultimately, this may result in increased costs. Make sure you know what scams are out there and take steps to prepare yourself as you get ready for college.

6. Keep Track of Your Cards

For many students, college comes along with the need to carry a debit card or credit card for the first time. It also means keeping track of that important card. If you do lose it, make sure you contact your bank or issuing agency immediately. The sooner they put a freeze on the account to prevent unauthorized spending, the sooner you can get your finances back in order. To help prevent this, make sure you keep your debit card in your wallet or another secure location at all times. You should also keep your debit card tucked away, rather than out on a lanyard for the world to see. Consider using a card case on your phone that will allow you to keep your debit card close at hand. 

Preparing yourself for college is a big step--and so is keeping your identity safe. With this checklist, however, you can help keep yourself safe from many of the most common threats to your privacy.