9 Reasons Why College Students Are at High Risk of Identity Theft

Article from the Financial Times Press, written by Steve Weisman. http://www.ftpress.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2141481

College students are identity theft’s most common victims. They are five times more likely to be a victim of identity theft than the general public. The reason for their vulnerability is twofold. They live in close quarters and they do not take enough precautions.

Identity theft can result in your bank accounts and brokerage accounts being looted; being hounded by a debt collector for a debt that you did not incur; becoming unable to access your own credit cards, bank or brokerage accounts; being arrested for crimes committed by people who have stolen your identity; or even receiving improper medical care because your medical records have been corrupted by an identity thief who stole access to your medical insurance. It can also ruin your credit rating which can, in turn, affect your ability to rent an apartment or get a loan, a job, and insurance.

So where are college students vulnerable?

Dorm Rooms: Checkbooks, credit card statements and other personal papers should be locked securely. Dorm rooms are notoriously open spaces that are available to many people. Armed with a blank check, an enterprising scam artist can quite easily create a forged check with easily available software and empty his victim’s bank account. A stolen credit card statement will not only provide the victim’s credit card number for use in making purchases using the victim’s credit, but also enable the identity thief to fill in a change of address notation on the statement and send it back to the credit card company, so it may be months before the victim realizes his credit has been accessed.

Discarding papers containing personal information such as bank account numbers, credit card numbers or a Social Security number by merely throwing them in the trash is an invitation to dumpster diving identity thieves to gather the trash and turn it into their gold.

Smartphones and Social Media: College students all too often do not properly protect their smartphones with security software or even a proper password.

With social media, such as Facebook, they may click on the links contained in messages on their wall, not knowing that those messages may not be from their friends, but from identity thieves posing as their friends. Those links don’t take them to the promised pictures or other material, but instead download keystroke logging malware that will steal all of the information from the victim’s computer, smartphone or tablet and turn him or her into a victim of identity theft.

Free Music and Games: College students may download free music or games without a thought to the fact that these free things come with a price – identity theft. Often the free music and games are tainted with keystroke logging malware that the student unwittingly downloads when downloading the music or games.

Celebrity Websites: Identity thieves have a knowledge of psychology that would have made Freud envious, and they know much about pop culture and who students are interested in. They will create websites around celebrities, which lure college students to the malware tainted websites. McAfee, the computer software company, maintains an annual list of the most dangerous celebrities on the Internet. This year, the most dangerous woman is the actress Lily Collins. 15% of the Lily Collins websites are tainted with malware. The top ten most dangerous celebrities on the Internet this year are Lily Collins, Avril Lavigne, Sandra Bullock, Kathy Griffin, Zoe Saldana, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Jon Hamm (the only male), Adriana Lima, and Emma Roberts.

Free Apps: Identity thieves make available free apps filled with malware. College students should be careful about where they get their apps and stay with sources that they know are legitimate, such as Apple’s App store.

Passwords: College students may be careless with their passwords, using the same one for every device and account. Many use the name of a pet, which they might also proclaim on their Facebook page for the world to see. Frankly any word that appears in the dictionary makes a poor password because identity thieves have programs that can decipher any password in a matter of moments if it is a word in the English language. The best passwords contain a long mix of small letters, capital letters and symbols. You can make it a phrase, such as Security1st!!!. Each of those exclamation points at the end of the password provides much added protection.

Security Questions: It is important to give sufficient thought to security questions and use information that is not available on Facebook or elsewhere online. College students should never use security questions involving a pet’s name, birthdate, high school, favorite sport team or anything that can be found on the Internet. In fact, a foolproof security question is one where you give a nonsensical answer, such as answering “What is my favorite fruit?” with “telephone pole.” Don’t worry about remembering it. It is so silly you will never forget it.

Wi-Fi: College students often use Wi-Fi in coffee houses, malls and other public places with little concern that the Wi-Fi that they are using may be set up by the identity thief at the next table rather than the legitimate Wi-Fi for the location. Identity thieves can easily set up a Wi-Fi in a public place to gather personal information on their victims’ smartphones, laptops or tablets if these devices are not properly equipped with encryption and security software. It is also important to remember that it is not enough to have security software and anti-malware software installed on your electronic devices. You must keep these programs constantly updated. Identity thieves rely on the fact that too many people fail to keep their security software and anti-malware software current so that when new viruses and malware are used, their devices will have no defenses.

Credit Cards: College students often make purchases online and for convenience may leave their credit cards on file with the particular websites that they frequently use.  This is a mistake.  You are only as safe as the place with the weakest security that holds your personal information such as a credit card number.  If the company you do business with is hacked and you have left your credit card on file there, you are in danger of identity theft.