You are in school working towards a better future. The last thing on your mind is the risk of having your identity stolen, but that’s why it should be a top concern.
Identity thieves want to victimize you!
Why Would an Identity Thief Target a Student?
You might believe, “That can’t happen to me!” but that logic will only protect you for so long. It’s not good to be oblivious to the serious threat of identity crimes. It’s unfortunate, but you would not be the only one that got fooled. In fact, results from a 2015 study by Javelin Strategy & Research found that nearly two-thirds of students do not view identity theft as a threat.
But, identity theft is not a joke. Millions of Americans are victimized every single year. A big portion of those victims are students. That means, as a student, you have to open your eyes and understand identity thieves want to steal YOUR identity!
Below are three examples of reasons why an identity theft might want to target you or any other student.
1. You have little-to-no borrowing history.
As a student, you might not have anything to show on your credit report. If that’s the case, you are a prime target for synthetic identity fraud. This involves fabricating part or all of the identity to force the bureaus to create a new credit report. The crime could go undetected for as long as it takes you to get a copy of your credit report.
2. You have few ways to detect identity fraud.
You are caught up with school, so chances are you are not keeping a close eye on your credit report. If you also do not pay for identity theft protection services to do it for you, how else would you be able to catch an identity attack against you? According to the Javelin study mentioned above, 22-percent of student identity theft victims remain unaware until a debt collection letter comes in the mail.
3. Your personal identifying information is easy to steal.
Thanks to the simplicity of synthetic identity theft, all a criminal needs is a way to get some of your personal identifying information. This could be done by many ways, such as by stealing your mail or hacking your computer. With a shared dorm and Internet connection, that’s already two strikes against you. That’s just some of the ways, but you can read a longer list of methods identity thieves use to get your information on Utica College’s website.
What’s the Worst Case Scenario for Student Victims?
Even if you do become a victim, it does not mean you have to worry about serious out-of-pocket losses. The current laws in the United States protect you from absorbing financial liability as a result of an unknown identity crime. With that said, it’s important you know what your rights are if you do become an identity theft victim.
IdentityTheft.gov’s Know Your Rights page lists the different rights you have if you are victimized. From this list, some interesting points to note include:
- You have access to your credit report from each of the bureaus at no cost,
- You can get fraudulent entries blocked or taken off your report,
- You are able to place an extended 7-year fraud alert on your file, and,
- You can block further contact and report entries from debt collectors.
As far as financial liability goes, here’s what you need to know:
- Full liability is possible if it takes more than 60 calendar days to report the fraud,
- Less than that, but more than two business days post-statement costs up to $500,
- Under two calendar days will cost no more than $50, and,
- Due to new federal laws, any credit card fraud losses will cap at $50.
So, it seems that the potential damages are almost nothing to worry about. If you take that assumption, then you would be wrong. The average amount of time it takes to restore your identity is around 200 hours; the entire repair process could take six months or more.
Even worse, you will not be able to build new credit right away. In fact, it will take a few years before your credit file does not raise red flags with potential lenders. This means your credit growth is limited from the get-go. Your FICO score is not held down in a technical sense, but the struggles of being an identity theft victim will sure make it feel that way.
What Do You Do if You Become an Identity Theft Victim?
According to IdentityTheft.gov, that identity theft victims do the following:
- Inform any companies where you have an account, fraudulent or not.
- Put an extended 7-year fraud alert on your credit file.
- Fill out and send in the form for the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit.
- Open a police report with said affidavit.
Those are the four essential steps. After that, you have to work to remove the damages and prevent any future blemishes on your credit file. This is where you will find yourself spending many hours getting things fixed. If you want to make sure not to miss a single step along the way, follow the FTC’s ‘Taking Charge’ guide.
How to Stop an Identity Thief from Targeting You
Identity theft prevention is not an easy topic to discuss. This is because there are so many different dynamics that can come into play. An identity thief could be your best friend, your neighbor, or just someone with access to your state’s health records database. Staying safe from identity theft is not as simple as keeping your Social Security Number to yourself.
What makes matters worse is that, as a student, there are even more ways an identity thief can target you. As such, it’s important to consider each of the following approaches towards preventing an identity thief from making you another victim.
Identity Theft Protection Services
This prevention method is always up for debate.
You might do a little research and find Consumer Report’s review on the subject. It takes a negative tone on these protection services. While the negative aspects are certainly true, it’s important to also think about the good. Because, as a student, you do not want to waste a lot of time trying to set up security measures to keep identity thieves away.
Before shunning identity theft protection companies altogether, consider both the benefits and downfalls of using such a service.
How Can Identity Theft Protection Help?
Identity theft protection services give you a way to automatically keep track of your credit report and identity. This saves you from having to worry about how often you need to look at things to see if you were victimized. Even better, you will find out right away if someone does manage to make you a victim. This immediate notice guarantees you no financial liability and could save you the 200 hours and six months of restoration efforts.
The protection plan can catch just about any identity theft attack. This is because these companies do for you what you would have needed to do to keep yourself safe. This includes everything, from setting up the fraud alert on your credit report to blocking pre-approved credit card mail offers.
Preventing identity theft comes down to reducing your exposure to security vulnerabilities. Identity theft companies take all the right steps to protect users. While you can go through the processes and achieve a similar level of security, it will take a while. Automating the entire process, monitoring everything in one place, and having access to expert assistance makes identity theft protection a considerable investment.
What Are the Problems with Identity Theft Protection?
You can replicate most of the protective layers that an identity theft service offers. This means it’s not an essential investment; albeit, it is a lot more convenient to shell out a small amount each month than to keep up-to-date with everything about your identity.
You can use the my Social Security account on the Social Security Administration’s website to monitor your Social Security Number. This is a free service that will catch any uses of your number, whether it’s by you or someone else. For instance, using this service will allow you to catch a fraudster using your number to claim benefits or to work under your name. Under the same website, you can also find a detailed PDF explaining Social Security Number vulnerabilities.
Doing so eliminates one of the main features of just about every identity theft protection plan. If you also make the effort to get your free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, there is little else a protection plan will do for you. Further, the service guarantees and victim’s insurance payouts are limited to specific expenses. It reads as a key selling point for the service, though it’s really an over-exaggeration and offered for marketing purposes.
All that in mind, the frequency of the free reports is insufficient and you must space it out. Instead of getting a free report from each bureau at once, you can get a report from one of the bureaus every four months. This is not really frequent enough to catch an identity thief in time to prevent any financial damages. Meanwhile, protection plans offer upwards of one credit report per month and can detect an identity fraud attack much sooner.
Is identity theft protection worth it? That’s for you to decide.
Identity Theft Protection Tips for Students
As a student, you are susceptible to all the typical identity theft tips and then some. This means you need to be aware of every single way to keep yourself safe. A good read to start with is ‘100 Best Ways to Prevent Identity Theft’ which also includes a section of tips for students.
Some notable tips include:
Re-Direct Your Mail
It is easy to get your mail stolen while living on campus. This could be because of your roommate, or someone else. If you leave mail lying around in your room, just about anyone could walk in and steal it. There is a good chance the contents will include personal identifying information about you, which makes it a ‘home run’ for the thief. By redirecting your mail, such as to your parents, you no longer have to worry about that risk.
Invest in a PO Box
If redirecting your mail is not an option, a PO box should not be out of the question. For the little bit it costs, you can sleep easy knowing no one is able to steal your mail. Of course, you must still consider what you do with it afterwards as your school residence might not be secure.
Freeze Your Credit Report
If you are a student who has no open credit accounts, it’s a good idea to put a freeze on your credit report. This will result in the credit bureau contacting you over the phone for verification whenever your name gets used to open a new account.
You can go the extra mile with a security freeze, which will also include a security PIN to enter when you make credit changes. The best thing about this type of freeze is that the bureau lets you know who tries to pull your credit report, and you can decide whether to approve the request.
Track Your Smartphone
You might find yourself enjoying a few drinks on the weekend with some school friends. If you end up losing your smartphone, whoever finds it could gain access to a lot of information about you. Most smartphones are crackable, so you do want to recover the device as soon as possible. There are many tracking apps that you can install onto your phone that will help you do this; choose a phone tracker that will allow you to wipe the phone contents remotely.
Don’t Help Your Roommate
You would be surprised how often the identity thief turns out to be someone the victim knows. It might seem like a good idea to help your roommate out, but it’s often better to play it safe. This means you should avoid co-signing for or sharing a credit line. As well, you should avoid offering to open any utility accounts. If you are helping someone out and that person takes advantage of you, it’s much more likely that you will become financially liable.
Always Shred, Never Discard
Do not just discard the documents into the trash. Dumpster diving is a popular technique among identity thieves, and school garbage bins are the perfect spot to target. Shred the paperwork first and then throw it out.
Conclusion: You Must Take Action to Secure Your Identity
In the end, the most conclusive takeaway should be the fact that you need to take action to secure your identity. You cannot just cross your fingers and play a game of Russian roulette with the rest of the American population.
Around 15-million people get victimized each year through various types of identity theft methods. If you do not want to become a part of the statistic, you need the appropriate security layers in place.
Want More Insight?
Back in 2006, FBI agent Jeff Lanza gave a great analysis on the surreal threat of identity theft and how Americans can stay safe. Many of the points coincide with what was mentioned earlier in this guide.
The agent noted that almost everyone already has access to your sensitive information. It’s available to staff at your bank, the hospital, your school, many retailers you dealt with before, utilities companies, brokerage services, various government agencies, and much more. The agent also mentioned that you need to monitor your credit reports closely to stay safe.