Identity theft is not just stealing and using someone's credit cards, but also gathering information such as names, Social Security numbers, passwords, and address information. An identity thief may reroute your accounts to his own address, open new ones in your name then run up these accounts, spending thousands of dollars. These thieves will then abandon the unpaid accounts, leaving you with damaged credit. An identity thief may also assume your identity altogether, using your name and social security information for an alias, to steal money, or to get a job.
Identity theft effects an estimated 3.3 million, or one in 30 students, and college students are prime candidates for this type of crime. Gregory Meyer, community relations manager at Meriwest Credit Union, told Money College in an email, "I was a bank manager for 15 years. Most of the ID theft cases I handled were for young people."
"A lot of students don't believe they are targets for ID thieves as they have no money," he says. "You don't have to have money to be a target, you only need a name and social security number." Naivety is the main reason students are targeted for identity theft according to Meyer, due to a "cavalier attitude" towards safeguarding information and a lack of experience in financial matters that makes it easy for predators to take advantage.
Pay attention to the ways your identity can be stolen:
Pre-approved credit card offers. Credit card companies extend a ridiculous amount of credit to college students in order to get new business. Money-smart students discard these credit card applications, and thieves go through the garbage and retrieve them. Because the credit card applications are pre-approved, they contain personal information that will allow someone else to accept the credit card in your name.
Shared space: Sharing dorm rooms or apartments means that you have no privacy and are likely to share everything. Roommates know your living habits and where you stash your stuff. Their close friends and guests will also have access to your information. Scambusters.org calls this six degrees of identity theft. Even if you choose trustworthy roommates, do they always choose friends wisely?
Internet Phishing: Job offers sent to your email inbox are not for real jobs. They are instead outright attempts to collect your personal information so that identity thieves can open accounts in your name. Most identity thieves aren't that obvious though. Instead they mimic your bank or credit card company and send emails attempting to collect your personal information. Learn more about phishing at Onguardonline.gov.
Telephone scams: Jack Vonder Heide, president of Technology Briefing Centers warns Money College readers not to fall prey to a current scam. "The scammer calls a college student pretending to be the collection department for the cable company, electric company, cell phone company, etc. The scammer says that the TV, electricity, etc. will be cut off later that day due to non-payment. When the customer insists that the payment was made, the scammer then asks for a Social Security Number, date of birth, checking account number, etc. so they can "track down" the payment. These scammers use Caller ID spoofing technology to mask the phone number and to show the real utility number on the victim's Caller ID."
On-campus solicitation. "When looking for credit cards, start with your bank" suggests Brian Yoder, vice president of engineering with CyberDefender, in an email. "Many credit card companies set up booths on campus and offer free swag for signing up on the spot. It is OK to learn about services, but beware of providing information to credit card representatives on campus because you never know where else that information might end up." Vonder Heide, of Technology Briefing Centers, also warns that scammers will sometimes sneak a vendor table in for a half hour for the sole purpose of stealing personal information.
Successful identity thieves, can wreak havoc on your life. By the time most people realize their identity has been compromised it can take years to recover. You won't be able to buy a car, get a nice apartment, or purchase a home. Identity theft can also prevent you from getting a private college loan. Future employers may also turn your down for jobs based on a credit history that reflects irresponsibility.
Reversing the damage can be difficult and a lengthy process, but there are some steps you can take:
- Contact your bank and credit card companies to report any unauthorized charges and have your account numbers changed.
- Contact all three credit reporting agencies to notify them of fraud and to freeze your account to prevent anyone from opening an account, taking out a loan, or making an inquiry without your express permission.
- Call the police to report the crime. Request a copy of the identity theft report and the phone number of the investigator who handles the case.
- Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Close any accounts that the identity thief has opened.
- In extreme situations, consider contacting the Social Security Administration for a new Social Security number.
- Visit privacyrights.org for more information on fighting identity theft.
- Purchase a shredder and destroy all credit card offers and other sensitive information.
- Get paperless, online, bank statements.
- Password protect your computer and important documents and files.
- Check your accounts regularly.
- Don't let casual friends "crash" in your dorm room or apartment.
- Never respond to emails that ask for personal information.
- Learn to recognize phishing emails.