Your college student is a target for ID thieves

The Baltimore Sun

Parents have plenty of advice for children headed off to college. Here's one more piece: Protect yourself against identity theft.

Identity thieves are targeting young adults?

"In today's world, the likelihood of either your data being lost in a campus environment or, worse, your identity being stolen has never been higher," says Scott Mitic, chief executive of TrustedID, a consumer ID theft prevention company.

One out of five data breaches occurs at colleges and other schools, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. And the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse reports that nearly 50 breaches have occurred so far at universities. That includes the University of Maryland, College Park, which accidentally released the Social Security numbers of nearly 24,000 students in July when the numbers appeared on mailing labels.

So what can students do? Here are tips from security experts:

Avoid credit card solicitations. This is a good idea anyway to stay out of debt. But there's a scarier reason to avoid these pitches.

Linda Foley, founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center, says her group has heard of con artists setting up credit card solicitation tables at colleges. They give students a T-shirt for filling out an application and in return, the schemers get the students' Social Security numbers and personal information to sell to others, Foley says.

If you need a credit card, go directly to the bank and fill out the application there, Foley says.

Freeze credit reports. Ask the major credit bureaus - Equifax, TransUnion and Experian - to freeze your credit report, Mitic says. A freeze prevents potential creditors from seeing your report, which means they likely won't extend credit to anyone else trying to get credit under your name.

You won't be able to open new lines of credit, either, unless you ask the credit bureaus to release the freeze.

Parents might like that. "This has a dual purpose of making sure your kid doesn't take advantage of all those credit card offers in Week 1," Mitic says.

Check credit reports. You'll have a credit record once you establish credit. Check your reports once a year to make sure the information is accurate. Get a free copy of reports at www.annualcreditre port.com.

Bank online. If you move frequently, some of your bank statements could be sent to the old residence before the bank gets word of the new address. Banking online avoids wayward paper statements, plus you can check the status of your account regularly, says Anne Wallace, president of the Identity Theft Assistance Center.

Keep some details secret. You can reveal lots about yourself on social networking sites viewed by thousands of strangers. Details that might seem harmless to you can be invaluable to thieves. Knowing your name, birth date and where you were born can help thieves get a copy of your birth certificate, Foley says. And with that, they can get a driver's license, passport and credit card under your name.

Also, don't share your credit card or your debit card and PIN number with roommates or friends.

Protect your computer. Get anti-spyware protection for your computer, Mitic says. This will prevent thieves from surreptitiously collecting personal information from your system or interfering with your control over the computer.

Better safe than sorry. When Mark Schussel's daughter entered Rutgers University, he bought her a fireproof safe. It's big enough to store her laptop and other valuables when she's not using them, but not too small that it can be easily carried away without anyone noticing, says Schussel, a spokesman for Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.

Buy a shredder, too, to chew up credit card offers and other papers you don't need but that contain sensitive information, he says.

Guard your Social Security number. Many companies, including utilities, will routinely ask for this vital number even though they don't need it, Schussel says. Ask them to accept another number or identifier instead, he says.

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