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September 2006

Back to School Time: Protect
Your Student From Criminals

This may be an article you want to cut out and give to your child or grandchild as he or she heads to college.

Students are one of the most common targets of online fraud. They are targets because they have little or no credit history. As a result, it is much harder for credit card companies and banks to separate fraudulent credit applications from legitimate applications. Furthermore, many colleges and universities are finding it a challenge to protect their computer systems from hacking—the breaking into or gaining unauthorized access to a college or university computer system.

Thefts also come from other quarters: the higher education institution accidentally posting private personal information online (as occurred last year at Montclair State University in New Jersey), the theft of a employee’s laptop with personal information on it (such as recently happened with the U.S. Veterans’ Administration), or even glitches in certain computer software.

Security Sense

What should students do to protect their personal information? Following are some of my suggestions along with several from the Identity Theft Resource Center. First, password-protect your computer so that only you can use it. Passwords known only to you that use a combination of letters and numbers will make it much more difficult for a criminal to hack into your computer and steal your information.

Second, keep all passwords protected from unauthorized disclosure or use. Don’t write them down in a paper file that is easily discovered. Rather, place them in a password-protected file in your computer.

Third, keep your personal information in a locked box in your dorm room or apartment so that even your roommate cannot gain access. I have worked on several identity theft cases where a roommate or “friend” gained access to the personal identifying information and then gave it to others. Unfortunately, criminals then gained access to the information and committed identity theft.

Fourth, add a shredder to your list of items and use the shredder for any personal identifying information you do not want to keep and that is not protected from unauthorized discovery and use. As added protection, make sure to mix up the shredded paper when you take it out for disposal.

Fifth, don’t use your social security number for any reason other than to identify you for tax purposes, to get employment, or to apply for a student loan. Fortunately, most colleges and universities no longer use the student’s social security number as their student identification number.

Resist Temptation

Sixth, as I have recommended in earlier Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News columns, don’t be tempted by the free shirts and other items offered by credit card companies at on-campus tables. These tables during crowded student orientation times or sporting events are potential security problems. Furthermore, these credit card offers often charge higher interest rates and fees than ones you can obtain by shopping around at a local credit union or bank.

Finally, do not respond to e-mails asking for credit union or banking information. These e-mails, otherwise known as “phishing,” are not legitimate and will only result in a criminal emptying your account.

The college or university experience is meant to be an educational and rewarding time for your student, not one that makes him or her a victim of fraud.

Copyright ©2006 Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News
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