BBB Consumer Tips: College students at high risk for identity theft | Features

College campuses are again filling up, and information sharing has become second-nature to many college students who have grown up in an era of social media, smartphones and widely available internet access. Unfortunately, this also makes students more susceptible as a target for scams and fraud.

Identity thieves look to college-age adults because they often have good, clean credit scores. Young adults are also prime targets, not just because of their willingness to share information online, but also the high number of forms and applications they are required to fill out. Adding to this is the continual barrage of credit card offers, frequent online purchases and newly granted financial independence.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) 2016 Consumer Sentinel Network report, 19 percent of identity theft complainants were under 29 years old. There were 74,400 young adults that fell victim to identity theft in 2016.

While identity theft can occur in college, sometimes the problem can start even earlier. Child identity theft happens when an individual commits fraud by using the child’s information to obtain credit cards or take out a loan. By the time that child is grown and attempts to open their own line of credit, often in college, the damage is already done. Parents should start monitoring their child’s credit report at a young age so problems don’t arise later.

Better Business Bureau offers these simple steps college students can take to protect their identity:

• Secure your mail.

Campus mailboxes are often easily accessed in a dorm or apartment. Have sensitive mail sent to a permanent address such as your parents’ home or invest in a secure post office box. Shred all paper documents that contain sensitive financial information and any credit card offers that come in the mail.

• Store personal items safely.

You may want to invest in a lock box or locking file cabinet to store your social security card, passport, financial statements and any other private documents.

• Safeguard your personal information.

Don’t share your information with anyone without knowing why it’s needed. Most schools now use a student identification number instead of a social security number for added protection.

• Check your financial statements frequently.

Look for any suspicious activity or purchases on financial accounts. Fraudulent purchases can sometimes come in small amounts, which means it’s important to keep a close eye on accounts. Report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution immediately.

• Check your credit report at least once a year.

Everyone is entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three free credit reporting agencies. Georgia residents can receive two free reports. Request a copy of your report and look for any unusual activity or inaccuracies.

If you are concerned about identity theft, you can report and dispute errors or suspicious activity to your credit providers and notify each of the three credit bureaus. Also, if you do become a victim, you should fill out an online report to the FTC at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

Kelvin Collins is President/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 83 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB by visiting bbb.org, by emailing info@centralgeorgia.bbb.org, or by calling 800-763-4222.

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