10 ways students can protect against identity theft
Students heading off to college need to realize that college campuses are a hotbed for computer, smartphone, credit card and identity theft. At home if your computer disappeared from your room, you most likely knew your siblings or parents heisted it. At college, it's a different story. (See Protecting your computer -- and your identity -- on campus.)
Based on advice from experts, here are 10 ways students can protect themselves against computer and identity theft:
- Lock your door. This is the single most important way to
keep your computer and other devices safe, according to experts. "College
students treat door locking like it's such an inconvenience," says Guy
of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Campus Safety" and a career
law enforcement officer. "They'll
carry everything with them except their key or access card. Put the key or
card on a lanyard and you're good to go."
unnecessary personal info from your computer. "If you filled out an application and
you put your Social Security number in it, delete it after you're done,"
says Todd Feinman, CEO
of Identity Finder. "If you
need the information, encrypt it with a password."
- Install a tracking program. Programs such as Prey and Absolute LoJack will
track your devices and help you and/or the police locate the stolen
property. Such programs also allow you to digitally and remotely wipe your
devices so a thief can't use them. "Absolute LoJack's theft recovery solutions will
aid in the recovery of your stolen laptop, smartphone or tablet and return to
it you," says Kate Brow, spokeswoman for Absolute Software, which makes
Absolute LoJack. "Your data is
protected. Your device gets back to you, where it belongs."
out. Research shows that people tend to leave their phone apps
open to their accounts when they’re done, says Becky Frost, senior
manager of consumer education with credit reporting agency Experian’s
Protect My ID program. The
time you save in the short run could cost you if your device falls into
the wrong hands. “That 20 seconds you take to type in your username and
password each time can save you a lot of time and frustration dealing with
ID theft,” Frost says.
- Don't reveal too much personal
information on social networking sites. Sites such as Snapchat, Instagram,
Facebook and others may ask for your birth date, but birth dates are a
boon to identity thieves, Feinman warns. "Your full date of birth
shouldn't be shared," he says. "It certainly shouldn't be public
information on social media sites."
be so quick to give out your Social Security number. "A bank needs your Social Security
number," Feinman says. But other entities that ask for it don't
necessarily have to have it. "Push back on any company that requires a
Social Security number," he says. "Ask why they need it. If they can't say
why, don't give it. Find out if there is another piece of information or
something else you can give." For example, your doctor needs only your
insurance ID number, he says. A cellphone company probably would be
willing to take a $100 deposit (borrow the money from your parents if you
don't have it) and then return it after you show a good payment history
over several months, he says, in lieu of providing of Social Security number.
- Start shredding -- digital and paper records. Use software such as Identity Finder to search and preview the personal data (yours and anyone else's) on
your computer, including credit card numbers, Social Security numbers,
birth dates, tax returns and financial aid documents. You then have the
option to digitally shred, encrypt or redact that information, depending
on your needs. Students can also find free digital shredders online.
And don’t forget real shredders, Frost says. “Now is the time to get
one,” she says. “They’re very affordable – look for back to school sales.”
smart about passwords.
"Students should refrain from sharing passwords, should use strong
passwords, use different passwords for different accounts and change
passwords regularly," says Steven Toporoff, an attorney in the
Trade Commission's Division of Identity and Privacy
Make it easy for you but tough
on crooks: Instead of using a real word, pick a phrase and then create an
algorithm such as using the first and last letter of each word in the phrase,
says Kevin Lanning, interim chief information security officer at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Stay up-to-date. Download the latest updates to your computer's
operating system and anti-virus software, Feinman says. And read the privacy guidelines that come with smartphone apps and computer software before you
download them, he says.
Any privacy deal breakers are up to your level of comfort and the value you feel you're getting in return for the information you're giving, he says. But you should be
concerned with a company that keeps your personal information indefinitely with
no plan to securely erase it; gives or sells your personal information to third
parties; or has no secure method for storing personal information, he says.
with your wallet. If a business
or other entity allows your private information to be compromised, don't
purchase products there, Feinman says. "You have choices as a consumer,"
At the least, consider
waiting after a reported breach to give the company time to upgrade
security, he says. "There
will be a period of time when the breached company is dealing with legal
issues and reputation repair -- during this time they might be upgrading
security," he says. "However, it would make sense to wait some
time (at least three to six months) before expecting a more secure
approach to storing your personal information."
See related: 8 keys to safe credit, debit card use on campus, Are schools putting your child’s information at risk?
Updated: August 29, 2014