Eight tips for college-bound students to prevent identity theft

College students have many responsibilities to manage when it comes to school, work and their social lives. Unfortunately, identity theft and credit ratings often take a back seat to those other priorities. Better Business Bureau warns that young adults are particularly vulnerable to identity theft and related crimes.

More than 250,000 people fell victim to identity theft in 2010, according to the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. Twenty-four percent of those were between the ages of 20 and 29. Another 8% were 19 years old or younger, meaning college-aged students account for as much as one quarter of all identity theft victims.

Young adults are especially susceptible to “friendly fraud,” crime that is committed by people known to the victim, such as a roommate or relative. Such crimes grew 7% overall last year, according to a report released by Javelin Strategy and Research.

Because college students are such common victims of identity theft, Connecticut BBB recommends taking a few simple steps 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.

Don’t share too much on social networks – Identity fraud was twice as common for people who have been on social networking sites for five years or more. Javelin research found people not using privacy settings on their networks were at a higher risk of exposing crucial information to fraudsters.

Important documents should be securely stored – This includes social security cards, passports and bank and credit card statements. Shred all paper documents that contain sensitive financial information and any credit card offers that come in the mail.

Never loan your credit or debit card to anyone – If you feel the need to pay for a friend’s meal or a tank of gas, go with them instead. Avoid co-signing for a loan or other financing.

Make sure your computer software is up to date – Many public Wi-Fi systems can be susceptible to hackers, especially when they are not password-protected. Download updates to your antivirus and spyware software on a regular basis to keep your personal documents and information safe. Never use a shared computer workstation to pay bills or shop online.

Check your credit and debit card statements frequently – Look for any suspicious activity or purchases. The sooner you identify potential fraud, the sooner unauthorized charges can be refunded to you.

Start with trust – When shopping on unfamiliar websites, always check for the BBB Accredited Business seal and click to confirm it is legitimate before entering credit card information. If there’s no seal, check the company’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org.

Check your credit report at least once a year – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion each offer a free credit report once a year. Visit annualcreditreport.com , the free government-sanctioned service, to request a report and look for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies.

To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit bbb.org.

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