Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes, costing victims millions each year. These thieves will stop at nothing to get hold of your personal information and ruin your credit or finances. As a young adult, you may view identity theft as a "grown up"problem, or a situation that only happens to those more established than you. But identity theft doesn't discriminate. In fact, according to a 2006 U.S. Department of Justice report, "households headed by persons ages 18-24 were more likely to experience identity theft than others."And if you're a college student, theft might occur while you're on campus.
Since you're starting your credit history, you can't afford setbacks. Although thieves might prey on your inexperience, you can fight back and keep your identity guarded on campus.
Limit the Use of Public Wi-Fi
Whether you're paying bills or checking your bank balance, don't handle this type of business over a public Wi-Fi network, such as those provided in the student union, the library or a coffeehouse. These networks aren't secured, so any experienced hacker can break into your computer while you're using public Wi-Fi and steal sensitive information, such as credit and bank account numbers.
Keep Important Docs with Your Parents
You'll need some documentation while on campus, such as your student ID or driver's license, but chances are you won't need your Social Security card and birth certificate. Leave these documents at your parents'house. Speak with your college's administrative department to confirm documents you'll need in your possession while living on campus.
Get a Shredder
Leaving unsolicited credit card offers or bill statements lying around is an open invitation for identity theft, since they include your name, address and account information. A cheap $30 shredder keeps your personal information out of the wrong hands. Destroy old credit card statements, bank statements or any other paperwork with sensitive information.
Choose Complex Passwords
For any online account you have, choose complex passwords. Use a combination of numbers and upper/lower case letters. A strong password shouldn't be easily guessed by others, so don't choose your boyfriend or girlfriend's name, or your pet's name. Also, secure your computer or laptop with a password.
Don't Trust Anyone With Personal Information
This might seem a bit harsh, but you don't know who'll stab you in the back. Therefore, keep all personal information out of plain sight, preferably locked in a box or drawer. Don't leave credit cards or debit cards lying around your room, and don't respond to emails or phone calls that ask for personal information.
Stay Aware of Your Credit Activity
Once a year, get your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Closely examine each report for errors or signs of identity theft. You can even sign up for identity theft protection services, such as Identity Guard or Privacy Guard and receive email alerts anytime credit activity occurs in your name.
Get a P.O. Box
Some college campuses don't have the securest mail stations. If you receive credit card statements, bank statements or junk mail on campus, it might be easy for another student to swipe your information. Get a nearly P.O. Box and have your mail delivered there.