BBB is Helping Keep College Students Safe from Identity Theft

Education
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Evan Arnold-Gordon
Golden Gate Better Business Bureau

Going off to college is one of the biggest steps in a person’s life. It not only symbolizes higher learning, but it also represents independence and freedom that comes with being a young adult. Moreover, college students soon realize that there are important responsibilities that come with being on their own, such as keeping their personal identity safe.

In 2017, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received over 350,000 identity theft complaints nationwide and over 55,000 in California alone. For people aged 20-29 nationwide, there were over 70,000 identity theft reports and overall, younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people by 40%. Consumer Reports, a BBB Accredited Charity, also notes that households headed by individuals aged 18-24 may be even more likely than average to experience identity theft.

College students may feel as though they have nothing to lose since they’re just starting out in life, but the sooner they learn how to protect their identities, the better.

BBB offers the following tips to students to help ensure the only thing they’ll have to worry about this year is their midterms:   

  • Securely store personal documents. Keep only what you need in your wallet or purse and keep everything else in a safe, including your laptop and any other devices that contain sensitive information. This includes credit cards, your driver’s license, and anything that includes your Social Security Number (SSN) or other sensitive information. Make sure to shred documents that contain personal information before throwing them away.
  • Protect yourself with strong passwords and PINs. Secure all online accounts with strong passwords. Passwords should be long and unique, and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. Turn on multi-factor authentication if possible. Write passwords down on a piece of paper and store it in your safe, don’t keep them on any device. You can also use a password manager, just make sure to check out the business on bbb.org first. Make sure all your devices are protected by a password. Be careful using public Wi-Fi, you may be exposing yourself to scammers. Learn more about password safety at bbb.org/passwords and read more about the dangers of public Wi-Fi here.
  • Watch out for scams. In 2017, students nationwide reported more than 6,000 scams to BBB Scam Tracker. Most of the scams pertained to employment which ranked as the riskiest scam type for students last year. Learn how to protect yourself from a variety of scams at bbb.org/scamtips. It’s also important to not over-share on social media. Consumer Reports notes that “fraudsters can mine social media posts for information that could help them get past account security questions on various sites.”
  • Don’t give away your SSN unless it’s absolutely necessary. Your SSN, financial information, and other personal information should only be given out on a need-to-know basis. If you’re prompted to share your SSN, first ask if there’s another way to identity yourself. If you don’t have a choice and can’t avoid using the service (e.g., to see your class or grade information), make sure that you trust the institution or person who needs it. The fewer people that know your personal information, the better. Be wary sending personal information through the mail, as it could be stolen. Online, look for the “https” in the URL, where the “s” stands for “secure”.
  • Stay on top of your credit. Checking your credit report is one of the best ways to catch instances of identity theft. In the U.S., you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three credit bureaus once per year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Space these checks out across the year, and you will know fairly quickly if something is awry.

The best line of defense against identity theft is to guard your personal information. For more tips on avoiding identity theft, visit bbb.org/identitytheft. If you’ve had your identity stolen, visit identitytheft.gov to learn next steps, and then report it BBB Scam Tracker.

You can reach your BBB at info@bbbemail.org or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting bbb.org.

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