Back to School Time:
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.
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.
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.