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10 ways students can protect against identity theft

By LaRita Heet

Students heading off to college need to realize that college campuses are a hotbed for computer, 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)

10 ways students can protect their identities on campusBased on advice from experts, here are 10 ways students can protect themselves against computer and identity theft:

  1. Lock your door. This is the single most important way to keep your computers secure. "I don't want to simplify this too much, but I've seen so much of this kind of crime where the unfortunate victim just leaves his door unlocked," says Antinozzi. "Lock your door."
  1. Mark the property in a very visible, permanent way. Just as would-be thieves are often deterred by homes bearing "Protected by ... " signs, so is the computer thief going to go for an unmarked laptop.
  1. Don't assume your desktop computer is safe. Invest in some inexpensive cables designed to tether the CPU to something immovable in the room.
  1. Use password protection. Adjust your computer settings to prompt for a password anytime the computer is used. Change that password from time to time.
  1. Don't reveal too much. Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook may ask for your birth date, but birth dates are a boon to identity thieves. Likewise, do not reveal any other personal info on these public sites, or in response to any e-mail requests for your Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other data, even if it's from a familiar-sounding company. Always err on the side of caution. For example, if you receive an e-mail that says it's PayPal and wants to verify your credit card number, call PayPal directly from the number listed on its website -- NOT from any information in that e-mail. If you simply send your credit card number in response to that e-mail, you could find yourself stuck with a maxed-out credit card and a host of negative credit report problems.
  1. Keep thorough records. If your laptop is stolen, can you provide a full description for the police? Write down your computer's make, model, color and most importantly, the unique serial number, which acts as a key identifier, much like the vehicle identification number (VIN) on a car. You might also need this information in case you want to file an insurance claim.
  1. Install a tracking device. Use a GPS tracking device that runs invisibly on the computer to relocate the stolen property.
  1. Use a multilayered security approach. MyLaptopGPS's six layers of protection, including permanent tagging, GPS tracking, covert data recovery, remote data deletion, stolen property tracing, and property registration, are only $9.95 per month per computer. Other GPS tracking devices can be purchased individually and cost anywhere from $50 to $400.
  1. Start shredding (digitally shredding, that is). Use software such as Identity Finder, at $24.95 per computer, to search and preview the personal data (both your data and anyone else's data that might be on your computer), including credit card numbers, Social Security number(s), birth dates, tax returns and financial aid documents, on your computer. You then have the option to digitally shred, encrypt, or redact that information, depending on your needs. Students can also find free digital shredder software online.
  1. Contact your college's IT department about network security. Many colleges provide security software or other services free to their students, says Feinman, who notes that "tens of thousands" of colleges have licensed the Identity Finder software for their students. Before you purchase a specific computer protection system, check with the IT department of the college to ensure that system is compatible with the college's network, or you'll be tossing money out the window.

See related: Protecting your computer -- and your identity -- on campus 

Published: August 25, 2008

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