Millennials are widely recognized as the most tech-savvy generation. The generation who grew up at the dawn of the digital age and can hardly recall a time before the internet. However, studies suggest that, for all their tech fluency, millennials are shockingly susceptible to identity theft.
A study by Javelin Strategy & Research found that in 2014, 22 percent of students found themselves the victims of identity fraud, a rate three times higher than the overall national average.
This leads us to an obvious question: what behaviors are college students engaging in which lead to such astronomical rates of identity theft?
What is Identity Theft?
The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft as the following:
Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.
With such a broad, generic definition, it is sometimes hard to discern identity theft attempts. It doesn’t help that ID theft tactics have changed significantly throughout history.
As new technologies are developed, new identity theft tactics are sure to emerge. It is essential for everyone, including college students, to remain vigilant.
How Does Identity Theft Affect You?
Some students might not believe that identity theft is such a major concern, and that misconception is a big part of the problem. Identity theft can quickly turn your financial situation, as well as your life in general, into a nightmare.
First and foremost, these people can steal from you. If an identity thief gains access to your bank account, they can easily drain your funds. In addition, they may have access to any savings accounts you have tucked away as well.
Besides this, becoming the victim of identity theft can be disastrous for your credit. As a college student, you are probably just starting to develop credit. However, becoming the victim of identity theft early on can put you into a hole right from the beginning. A bad credit score as a result of identity theft can affect your ability to:
- Open a credit card
- Take out student loans
- Buy a car
- Rent a house or apartment
- Get the job you want after graduation
That’s right – some employers check job candidates’ credit scores before hiring, so having a bad credit score may ultimately stand between you and your dream job.
Ways to Prevent Identity Theft
So what can you do to protect yourself? Try adopting these responsible behaviors:
- Beware of Oversharing: Take advantage of privacy settings on social media, and don’t follow any links unless you know the person who posted them. Keep personal information like your birthdate and address off of the internet.
- Limit Public Wi-Fi Use: A public Wi-Fi network is vulnerable to identity thieves. Never do anything sensitive like shop or check your bank account on an open connection. It’s better to spend a little bit of data than leave yourself vulnerable to attack.
- Don’t Bother with Credit Card Offers: Those booths offering a free t-shirt if you fill out a credit card application are common sights on college campuses. Do not give your personal information to anyone, even to seemingly reputable individuals. If you need to fill out a credit application, do it online using a secure connection.
- Lock Up Your Personal Information: Don’t keep documents such as your social security card or other highly sensitive information in your wallet. Get a good quality, easily-concealed lockbox to store your private documents. Also, don’t just leave the lockbox sitting out on the coffee table – hide it, and don’t let your roommates know where it is.
- Shred Sensitive Material: Documents such as bank statements, bills and credit card offers should be shredded, not simply thrown in the trash. Investing in a $20 paper shredder is a much cheaper and easier option in the long run.
- Keep an Eye On Your Bank Account: It’s not always the most pleasant sight, but you need to check your bank account regularly. If you detect any unfamiliar activity, contact your bank right away.
- Cash is King: Avoid carrying around a debit card or checkbook. Instead, try to pay for everything with either cash or a credit card. It’s much easier to correct fraudulent activity with a credit card than with your bank account.
- Use Unique Passwords: Do not use one password to access all of your social media and financial accounts. Pick out a unique password for every account, and try to avoid writing down any of your passwords.
If you suspect that you might be the victim of identity fraud, contact your bank or credit company immediately. You should also contact all three credit reporting bureaus in order to issue a fraud alert, so that the abuse does not ruin your credit.
Only through due diligence and responsible financial and personal management can you protect yourself from identity theft and credit fraud.