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BBB: Students at risk for ID theft

September 5, 2013

IDTheftCollege students need to carefully protect their personal information, according to a Better Business Bureau (BBB) press release. That’s because they are the most at-risk group for identity theft according to recent surveys and information from the Federal Trade Commission.

People at the highest risk were those who have public social media profiles and smartphone users who don’t have a password on their phones. College students fit that demographic perfectly because they fall in an age range which uses both social media and smartphones heavily. According a 2012 Identity Fraud Survey conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, 11.6 million adults became victims of identity theft in 2011, a 13 percent increase from 2010.

Additionally, a United States Department of Education survey found that 48 percent of participants admitted to leaving personal information out in their residence hall rooms, some of which was financial in nature. Thirty-one percent of these students were burglarized or knew someone in the building who was burglarized, meaning their personal information could have been compromised.

“On college campuses, ‘friendly fraud’ accounts for more than 20 percent of all identity theft crimes. Friends, roommates and classmates are all potential scammers,” said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and northern Illinois.

“We have found that this is a growing concern for our students,” adds Randi Napientek, assistant director of NIU’s Office of Student Academic Success, which oversees the university’s Financial Cents financial literacy program. “They need to be active in protecting their identity more now then ever before.”

In April, NIU partnered with Castle Bank to present five informal discussions on the topic of identity theft at the Holmes Student Center during the university’s Money Smart Week event. Additionally, a partnership with IDEAL Industries yielded a shred day that allowed the university community and members of the general public to shred sensitive documents for free.

Bernas explained that too often people think of scammers only as foreign-based scam artists phishing on the Internet, but this isn’t always the case. Since college acquaintances are often trusted by most college students, it can make it easier for these people to steal important information through paperwork or social networking websites.

“Most college students are so busy that when they realize they have been a victim of a scam, it is too late to do anything,” said Bernas. “College students need to take action early to avoid scams by being careful where they store personal documents and by being cautious about their internet use.”

The BBB recommends that college students take the following five steps to fight identity theft on campus:

  • Send sensitive mail to your parents’ home or a post office box. School mailboxes are not always secure and can often be accessed easily in a dorm or apartment.
  • Important documents should be stored under lock and key. This includes your Social Security card, passport, bank and credit card statements. Shred credit card offers and any paper documents that have sensitive financial information rather than just tossing them out.
  • Never lend your credit or debit card to anyone. It is important to always keep your debit and credit cards in your possession.
  • Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus and spyware software. Always install any updates and patches to your computer’s operating system or browser software, which help keep your computer safe from any new advances by identity thieves online.
  • Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. The sooner you identify any potential fraud, the less you’ll suffer in the long run.

For more tips and information about what to do if victimized by identity thieves, visit the NIU Students’ Legal Assistance website.