By Mary Kate McGrath - January 6, 2020
In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission reported a 20% increase in consumers reporting credit card fraud and other identity theft, while student loan fraud increased by 120%, according to Consumer Reports. Identity Theft, which occurs when thieves steal personal identifying information, such as your name, social security number, address, or credit card information, often targets college-age young adults.
College students are at high-risk for identity theft because they're unlikely to have a lot of transaction history, and younger, undergraduate students are often victims of fraud. Gen Z students, who are digital natives, are also common targets for online phishing scams, increasing risk of identity theft. It’s critical for campus safety managers to keep the commmunity informed about identity theft, given that college and university students are among the most-targeted demographics for these crimes.
It’s especially imperative for students to prevent identity theft, as a compromised identity can impact a personal finances and economic future. If an identity theft incident has a negative impact on a student’s credit score or credit history, the individual may be turned down for student loans, apartment rentals, or other critical financial needs required to finish a higher education degree. There are a variety of precautions students can take to protect private information, but given how many students are managing their own finances for the first time, some may not be familiar with these strategies. In order to better protect students on campus, safety managers can communicate identity theft risks, and provide the community with the resources needed to proactively protect their identities.
For any new college or university student, protecting identity and maintaining clean credit may not be a top issue on their radar. However, college-aged young adults are the most vulnerable demographic for theft or fraud, with people age 20-29 statistically more likely to lose money to fraud than older people, according to Consumer Sentinel Network. Despite having fewer assets or accounts, college-age young adults are more likely to lose money, as a lack of financial footprint mak them easier targets for scammers.
Data use on campus also makes students common targets. Many college or university courses require a social-security number to login to websites which post homework assignments or other updates, and administration offices may also use SSN’s for identification. It’s important for students to exercise extreme caution when using their social security number, even if the digits are a common log-in, since thieves are likely to watch for the numbers or gather data on a public network.
In order to trick college or university students, identity thieves use a variety of high-tech and low-tech strategies. Even worse, a rise in microchip credit card readers mean scammers have invented new strategies for defrauding consumers, and many of these schemes focus on college-age individuals. Types of college identity theft and fraud to be aware of include student loan fraud, “shoulder surfing” in which a thief takes down a student’s information at an ATM, fake credit-card offers, job or scholarship scams, stealing from a student mailbox, digital solicitation, or online phishing schemes. It’s important for campus safety managers to understand how each type of identity theft scheme can target students, as this will help communicate effective prevention strategies.
"Shoulder-Surfing". In a shoulder-surfing incident, a criminal looks over a victim’s shoulder to see their ATM information, including a personal identification number. Then, the thief will use this information to access the student’s account, or issue a bogus credit-card offer asking for more detailed information.
Student Loan Fraud. The number of students taking out loans each year to pay for education is increasing, and so are rates of student loan fraud. Between 2017 and 2018, the rate of student loan fraud incidents reported in the United States increased by 78%, as per the CSN. Make sure students know that a student loan provider will never ask for a Federal Student Loan ID right away, or for the student to pay money up front before a loan has been issued. Complete the FAFSA form ahead of loan application, and keeping an FSA ID secure is essential, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Credit Card Scams. Many college-age students choose to open their first credit-card at school, as the early years of higher-education are a good time to begin building strong credit. However, many scammers will take advantage of students opening their first credit card, and send fraudulent applications via the mail. Students should always make sure a credit-card application already contains identifying information or is affiliated with their bank of choice. If there’s any confusion, students should be sure to call the number their bank or the company to make sure the application is from a credible source, or consult with the financial advising office on campus.
Property Theft. Students should make sure to keep compromising documents, financial aid information, a social security card, passport or other form of identification, locked in a safe while on campus. It’s important for students to secure their laptops as well - warn community members against leaving their technology unattended, even while on campus, such as in the library or a student cafe. Never save financial information to the desktop and keeping laptops, tablets, and phones locked with a secure password are also best practices.
In order to help protect students from identity theft, campus safety managers can keep the community informed of risks, and communicate prevention strategies. Across the United States, identity theft is on the rise, with over 440,000 people experiencing identity theft or fraud in 2018, according to Consumer Sentinel Network. Demographic considerations can increase risk - for example, Consumer Affairs explains students based at schools in coastal states are at higher-risk for identity theft. Students who are considered lower-risk are still potential targets for identity thieves, and raising awareness about theft and fraud on campus should be considered part of a comprehensive safety plan.
College or university officials can maintain a working knowledge of strategies designed to prevent and respond to an identity theft. Students can follow a few steps to better secure their personal information, and prevent identity theft, such as securing all personal numbers or passwords, sign up for transaction alerts, store laptops and other valuables in a secure location, check privacy settings on social media, avoid making payments or accessing a bank account on a public WiFi or P2P network, and being cautious about mailing important documents. If possible, students should process secure or valuable ail through their parent’s address or a P.O. Box, instead of receiving documents on campus.
If a student’s identity is stolen, it’s important to act quickly. First steps include filing a police report and contacting the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as well as alerting one of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax) to make sure a fraud alert is put on the student’s accounts for the year. Students can also minimize the damage by putting a freeze on their credit, and contacting any credit companies where fraud was committed. Being mindful of active accounts is a must as well, and transaction alerts can help students better manage their assets following a compromising incident. For financially literate adults, identity theft prevention and response strategies might seem common sense, but it’s important to remember that college many students are managing their finances independently for the first time, and scammers are banking on their targets being uninformed about consumer protections.
Safety managers on campus should be sure to communicate these security strategies to students. A campus safety app can be a powerful tool for raising awareness about identity theft on campus, as well as resources available if a student encounters. Notifications can be sent straight to app, and safety managers can specifically target first and second-year students, if new students may be particularly susceptible to scams or fraud. The app also contains a resource center, which can contain a guide to preventing student identity theft along with the above strategies. Keeping students informed about common scams and behaviors which may put them at risk is a key step to preventing fraud on campus.
Make sure students know that if their property is stolen, whether it is a laptop or someone took important documentation from their dorm room, they can report the incident to campus safety. A campus safety app can also open up communication between students and campus safety, encouraging students to report incidents, including theft, directly through the interface. If a student is a victim of theft or fraud, reporting the situation allows campus police to issue a warning to other students, decreasing the chance that other community members will have their identity stolen as well.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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