College students are among the most vulnerable populations for identity theft. When you go to college, you move into a huge, laid-back environment with other people your age. There tends to be a lot more trust than is warranted, and you may not stop to consider that you’re also moving into a huge, laid-back environment with a whole lot of strangers. It can take most college students up to 126 days to discover ID theft, which is more than enough time for a thief to wreak havoc on your life.
Don’t assume your roommate, suitemates, or people who wander in and out of your room will not take advantage of the situation if they see sensitive documents sitting out where anybody can find them. Stealing your mail is pretty easy if you just put it on your bedside table. In addition, you’ll want to be careful what you send through the campus mail room. If you can do so, get all of your bills and statements paperless. Let the rest head to Mom and Dad’s house, or set up a post-office box.
Don’t be trusting with your personal PC either. Make sure you lock the terminal if you walk away from it, even for a minute. Set really strong passwords and be careful who you allow to use it. Your roommate may really have to type that paper. It’s really okay to send him down to the computer lab instead of letting him use your personal property. If your computer is a laptop rather than a desk top, consider carrying it with you when you won’t be in the room. And never save your passwords to your computer, just in case the worst really does happen.
Social networking seems to be all in good fun, but if you “friend” the guy you met two weeks ago because you enjoy hanging out with him, you’re opening up a wealth of information. Better to just be safe: don’t post your birth date, phone number, full name, or address on Facebook. Be especially wary of friend requests that you didn’t solicit coming from people you don’t know.
Finally, be wary of the casual college student habit of handing other people your debit or credit card so they can do food runs. If you’re going to be the one buying you are just going to have to head over and get the food yourself. Selling your credit card information is a cakewalk, even if the person you handed the card to never misuses the card directly. Don’t give out college IDs, library cards, meal cards, or parking permits either.
Invest in a shredder. Shred any piece of mail you no longer need. You’re in college, so you’re about to receive a metric ton of pre-approved credit offers, even though you probably don’t even have a job. Shred these, because an ID thief can have a field day with them.
It only takes a little bit of extra time to be safe, and being safe is your surest ticket to enjoying your college years to the fullest. Whether the ID theft is someone being dishonest “just this once” or is someone who makes a long term campaign out of ripping you off or wrecking your credit, ID theft can be devastating. It can take years to clean up, and who needs that while you’re trying to land that perfect job and apartment after graduation?