Headed to College? Don’t Become a Victim of Identity Theft (Guest Post)

If you’re going to college, you have lots of things on your mind: choosing the right classes, getting good grades, finding a place to live, making friends, etc.  You’re probably not thinking about identity theft, but according to the U.S. Department of Justice, about one out of 20 college age people will be a victim of identity theft. Losing everything that you own is not the college education that you are trying to get.

Colleges Give You Plastic

There was a time when the only purpose of a college ID card was to get you a discount at amusement parks. Now most college finances go through the student ID card. Often they are linked to a bank account and serve as a debit or credit card. Because all of the account information is linked, one slip can mean losing everything. Scambusters.org cites carelessness with financial aid information as one of the top reasons that students fall victim to identity fraud.

One of the ways to protect your credit is to never give your financial aid PIN to friends. With PIN information, a clever thief can get all of your other specific account information, including your Social Security number and residency data. The funds can also be diverted into the perpetrator’s account.

Wave the Red Flag

In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission established rules to deal with identity theft. The rules, commonly called the Red Flags Rules, have been adopted by most colleges and universities. The rules require such precautions as a photo on student ID cards, secondary forms of ID for registration and requirement for replacement cards. As part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT) of 2003, the Red Flag Rules are wide in scope, covering more than prevention. It requires an organization to actively seek out and identify possible threats.

College students can be naive about finances and are bombarded by financial requests like credit applications, so universities keep a close watch on fiscal data gathering. An important factor about the Red Flag Rules is remediation. Schools are mandated to have a process in place to help a student if there is a case of identity theft. Ask your school’s financial operations department for a copy of its identity theft prevention program.

No Surfing Allowed

In the past, shoulder surfing, the act of looking over a person’s shoulder to gain personal information, took an amount of stealth and an eidetic memory to recall a person’s private data. Now it only takes a cell phone. Mobile device use has changed shoulder surfing from both ends. Students use cell phones to access accounts that give the surfers more opportunity. As a tool for fraud, the photo-taking capacity allows a perpetrator the ability to snap an image at just the right moment. The biggest risk of shoulder surfing is when filling out credit applications in a crowd. This is the typical scenario of a student during orientation and rush week. Beware—and be aware—of your surroundings if you are headed to college.


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