College students are undoubtedly intelligent, but they do not always have the maturity to appreciate that they need to protect their identity on a regular basis. When in a hurry, or being merely careless, it is easy to let information slip into the wrong hand without even being aware of the fact. As a college student, you need to know the following identity theft protection measures:
Avoid providing personal information on social networking sites
Almost every college student will be a member of at least one social networking site. However, be careful about the amount of personal information you provide on such sites. You may believe that everyone who has access to your account has your best interests at heart, but this is not necessarily the case, particularly when you are just starting out your academic career and are meeting a lot of new people. Avoid including addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or information about your family. Even basic information like this is enough for an identity thief to use.
Look after your passwords
It can be tempting to keep the same passwords for all your accounts, including bank accounts, social networks and your favourite online shopping sites. However, this makes it very easy for others to access your personal information – either by guessing your password, or by overhearing you give it to someone else. Take care not to write your passwords down anywhere, make sure that they are different for different sites and are complicated enough to be hard to guess. Finally, change them on a regular basis, particularly if you use public computers.
Invest in reliable security software
If you have your own laptop, it is advisable to invest in security software, even if you are tempted to save money by opting for one of the free programmes available on the Internet. Security software will pick up any viruses, adware, spyware and potential opportunities for identity threat. Of course, it isn’t completely fool-proof, but you will be much more protected than you would otherwise be. If you cannot afford a reliable programme such as McAfee, then ask for a subscription for your birthday. It really will be worth it in the long-run.
Don’t respond to phishing emails
It is easy to become fooled by some of the many emails that pour into your account as spam, particularly if you have an Internet email address. Sometimes it is easy to spot a phishing email, such as the type that comes from someone in Nigeria claiming to have access to a million dollar bank account. Others may appear to come from your bank or PayPal and may initially seem to be genuine. However, a genuine email from your bank will not ask for personal details. Do not take the risk of providing them with any information. If you are unsure, contact your bank directly and check in person.
Lock away private documents
Whether you live in a shared house or in a dorm, it is important to keep your room locked while you are out. No matter how much you believe you can trust the people you live with, they may be tempted to steal your information if they come across it. In addition, it is highly likely that people you don’t know well will be coming in and out of your room, or will at least be nearby. Be safe and keep any personal documents locked away. Anything you do not need to have with you should be kept at your parents, or, if you don’t need to keep it, you should shred it.
Shred personal documents
Check your bank account and credit card statements regularly
As a final way to check that your identity is safe, you should check your bank account and credit card statement on a regular basis. This will enable you to notice as soon as possible if there is any abnormal activity on your account and do something about it before the situation becomes too serious. As soon as you see a transaction in your statements that you can’t remember making, make a phone call and clarify it. It is far better to be sure, even if it turns out that you did make the payment after all.
By taking some basic precautions, you should be able to protect your identity successfully. The earlier you get into the habit of doing so, the better.