You’re the only one who should have your identity.
Security on campus involves more than just pepper spray and walking in pairs. Sure, you can hide your wallet and lock up the laptop, but there are some crimes you still might not see coming. Every year, during routine credit checks for employment, credit cards and mortgages, unsuspecting graduates discover that their identities have been stolen. At a time when doors of opportunity should be opening, they’re slamming shut and victims are left scrambling to pick up the pieces.
Sadly, when it comes to identity theft, the vibrant university community is ripe for rip-offs. Trusting or forgetful students leave their doors unlocked. Confidential information is not secured. Credit card applications pile up. And requests for social security numbers are so common, we can recite them in our sleep. You wouldn’t toss your wallet to a stranger, or even an acquaintance, and yet we throw out our identifiers like confetti. So as you focus on the resume and vow to keep those red cups out of your Facebook photos, glance at the five tips below to prevent a future identity crisis. It may feel like it could never happen, but a few simple steps will make you a lot less vulnerable.
Special thanks to identity protection expert Joe Mason, senior vice president of Intersections Inc. and the executive behind IdentityGuard.com for chatting with me about the preventive measures students and families can take to protect their future.
1. Hide it.
Personal information including social security numbers, passports and passwords should be stored in a place that only you and a close relative can access.
2. Shred it.
Personal information you no longer need should be shredded. If you don’t have access to a shredder in your dorm, invest in a small one (prices begin at under $20). Use it regularly on those documents you don’t need and the credit card applications that will inevitably be coming your way.
If someone asks to borrow your car, you’d ask why. When someone asks for your social security number, you should use the same caution. Mason suggests the mantra, “Don’t be shy, ask why.” He said students should ask the requester why they need it, how they will protect it and how they will be contacted if there is a security breach.
Don’t be quick to loan your computer, share your passwords or other legal documents. Even trustworthy friends can have lapses in judgement that might compromise your identity. A good friend can leave a good friend’s computer at Starbucks. Replacing a stolen computer won’t solve the problem if your personal information is stolen.
Simplicity is great, but not when it comes to passwords. Create passwords that are complex and include letters, numbers and punctuation when possible.
Ask any victim of identity theft and they’ll tell you Benjamin Franklin was right. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Besides, you’re the only one who deserves to be you.
An accomplished psychologist, speaker and award-winning lifestyle humorist, she is a former full-time university professor, and the mom of a college graduate and college sophomore. Follow her on Twitter and check out her new podcast The College-Bound Chronicles on iTunes.
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