Identity Theft Tips for Students
Identity theft crimes continue to grow each year in the United States and around the globe. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that 29% of identity theft victims are between the ages of 18 and 29. Students and other young adults are prime targets because they are likely to have a clean credit report and are less likely to regularly monitor their credit history. Identity Theft can have a severe impact on a student’s financial future. Victims can spend a significant amount of time trying to recover from the damage to their credit reports and reputations. It can take months or even years to restore their good name. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports it takes an average of 177 hours and up to two years to repair your credit. As a result, students could miss out on job opportunities or be denied loans for mortgages, cars or even education.
Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized individual acquires some of your personal information -- your bank and/or credit card numbers, your income, your social security number, or even something as simple as your name, address, and telephone numbers -- and uses it to commit fraud or theft. Specifically, the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 makes it a federal crime when someone "knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law."
How can a thief get my information?
Identity thieves may use a variety of methods to secure personal information about another individual, both hi- and low-tech. The Identity Theft Assistance Center offers tips on minimizing the risk of identity theft by keeping a watch for some warning signs.
Lost/stolen wallet or checkbook. The most commonly reported source of information used to commit fraud is a lost or stolen wallet, purse or checkbook. These items usually contain credit and debit cards, along with other personal documentation. Using these items, a criminal can get enough information to obtain credit under your name, or sell the information someone else.
Dumpster diving. Criminals rummage through trash cans for pieces of non-shredded personal information that they can use or sell.
Mail theft. Crooks search mailboxes for pre-approved credit offers, bank statements, tax forms, or convenience checks. They also look for credit card payment envelopes that have been left for postal carrier pick-up.
Inside sources. Half of all identity fraud is committed by friends, family members, relatives, employees and live-in caregivers with access to privileged information. Information like personnel records, payroll information, insurance files, and account numbers can be great help to crooks.
Imposters. Many have fallen victim to identity theft by individuals who fraudulently posed as someone who had a legitimate or legal reason to access the victim’s personal information. In the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, criminals posing as emergency workers obtained information from victims seeking financial aid.
Documents in the home. Identity thieves can gain legitimate access into someone’s home and personal information through household work, babysitting, healthcare, friends or roommates.
Online data. In most cases, criminals get access to personal information by methods as outlined above but risks also exist online. Be cautious when sending information electronically over the Web. Account information sent through email, or online chat rooms, can easily be intercepted by thieves.
Ways to Prevent Identity Theft
In order to help you keep control of your good name and reputation Bank of America offers the following important prevention tips:
Credit Reports: Get your credit report regularly. You are entitled to a free credit report each year form all three credit bureaus; Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com for more information. Keep an eye out for fraudulent accounts opened in your name. Even a misspelled name or wrong address could be a sign of trouble.
Shredders: Shred all papers that have identifiable information such as bank statements, phone bills, medical statements, pre-approved credit offers, etc. using a cross cut shredder. Many thieves get personal information from carelessly discarded papers.
Unauthorized Charges: Watch your credit and debit card statements for unauthorized charges. If you see something suspicious notify your financial institution immediately.
Secure Information: Keep identifying information such as your social security card, or credit or debit card numbers private and in a secure location. Don’t give out this information on line or over the phone unless you trust the company and you initiated the call. Don’t be pressured into releasing something to take advantage of a “limited time offer”. Remember if it sounds too good to be true it probably is not true.
Signature: Consider writing “See ID” on the back of credit or debit cards so if they are ever stolen, thieves will not be able to sue them as easily. At the very least sign all new credit cards immediately with permanent ink. Put your picture on your card if your financial institution offers this service.
List of Numbers: Keep a list of all credit/debit card numbers along with the phone numbers to call of the issuing institution to report a lost or stolen key. Avoid writing a PIN number, Social Security Number (SSN) or pass code on any of your credit cards or on anything you plan to throw out.
Mail: Check and empty your post office box on a daily basis. Often pre-approved credit offers contain persona information and have “special offer” codes that anyone can use to misrepresent themselves as you when calling he toll-free number. Shred these offers before disposal.
o Always lock your residence room. Don’t leave your doors propped open for easy access.
o Never leave personal information in writing or on your voicemail
o Don’t share your keys or access cards with anyone. Report any lost or stolen keys immediately.
o Always secure personal information on your computer. The best way to protect information is with an “encrypted” password. Use a mix of numbers, special characters and letters; both upper and lower case. For example T@5*rOSe. Try to memorize your password(s) instead of recording them on paper or computer. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
o Secure your laptop with a cable lock or place the unit in a locked closer out of view when not is use.
o Use firewall and antivirus programs on your computer, especially if your computer is connected to the internet 24 hours per day.
o Never download or open files sent by people you don’t know.
o Do not click on hyperlinks or provide personal information to strangers.
o Keep antivirus programs up to date weekly and apply all recommended updates to your compute operating system at least once per month.
What can I do to manage my ID information?
Manage your personal information cautiously and wisely by taking the following steps:
· Only carry the identification and cards you need at any given time. Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you'll actually need. Secure your Social Security card and birth certificate in a safe place at home; do not carry it in your wallet or purse.
· Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work. Never leave these items in unsecured places.
· While making a purchase in person, keep your eye on the cashier - never look away while your card is being processed. Never leave your receipts behind after making a purchase. Destroy all carbons.
· If you have applied for a new credit card and it does not arrive within a reasonable time, contact the issuer.
· Be sure someone you trust collects your mail in your absence. If you are leaving town for a week or more, ask the post office to hold your mail until your return. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold.
· Don't give out personal or account information to anyone without verifying their identity. Never give personal information to telephone or door-to-door solicitors. Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother's maiden name, account numbers and other identifying information.
· Be aware of "shoulder surfers"! Shield your numbers when using an ATM.
· Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
Reporting Identity Fraud
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft or fraud, take the following four steps to start restoring your good name:
Fraud Alert: Contact one of the consumer credit reporting agencies, their contact information is listed below. Each company is required to contact the other two. Ask them to place a “Fraud Alert” on your file because you believe you are an ID theft victim. This alert prevents a thief from opening additional accounts using your personal information. Obtain and carefully review your credit reports to make sure there are no fraudulent accounts or balances.
PO Box 740241
Atlanta, Ga. 30374
Experian (Formerly TRW)
PO Box 9532
Allen, TX. 75013
PO Box 6790
Fullerton, CA. 92834
Affected Accounts: Close the accounts from credit card companies, utilities, banks, and other lenders that you know or believe may have been compromised or opened fraudulently. When you call each creditor to close suspect accounts speak with the security or fraud department. Open new accounts using new personal identification numbers and passwords.
Police Report: File a report with campus police if the fraud happened on campus or with the local police or sheriff’s department in the community where the ID theft took place. Get a copy of the report for your records in case your creditors ask for proof of the crime.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Complaint: The last step is to file a complaint with the FTC by phone or through the mail:
o Call the Identity Theft Hotline – 1-877-IDTHEFT
o Write to The Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580
Additional Web Resources for Students
Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, Federal Trade Commission
U.S. Department of Education