College students especially vulnerable to ID theft

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

We were amazed, recently, while going through some old documents for shredding, just how common it used to be to have one's Social Security number printed or displayed for anyone to see.

Back in college -- more years ago than we'd like to admit -- it was common to list class grades next to Social Security numbers. No, the names weren't connected directly to the numbers, but even a C student might be able to link the number to the reaction on a classmate's face.

Not that long ago, a major Nebraska college used to send out news releases about students who earned scholarships -- complete with the students' Social Security numbers right there on the news release.

We contacted the school with our concerns, but it was several years before the practice was discontinued.

It's all too easy for college students, living in dorms or sharing apartments, to have other people access their belongings and steal their identities. In fact, students 18 to 24 are most at risk for the crime.

Reinsurance company Grinnel Mutual, which partners with the iDentity Theft 911 service, offers the following advice:

* Purchase a cross-cut shredder. Shred preapproved credit offers. Dumpster-diving is an epidemic on campuses because thieves know most students throw these offers away unopened.

* Use a document safe. Lock up important papers like student loan and enrollment documents so they won't be left lying around where anyone could look through them.

* Reconcile bank statements. It's an early tip-off to identity fraud, yet only about a third of college students balance their checkbooks.

* Protect your computer. Even if you think you can trust your roommate, the same might not be true of the roommate's friends or classmates. Use strong alphanumeric passwords with combinations of special characters and capitalization and update security software.

* Avoid open boxes for outgoing mail. Use secure U.S. Postal Service drop boxes instead.

* Don't store login information on cell phones. If your phone is lost, contact your provider immediately.

The Gazette carries stories nearly every week about thieves trying some new angle to separate residents from their hard-earned money. Students headed off to college should take special care to make sure they aren't one of the victims.

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