School Yourself in Fraud Prevention With These 8 Tips
College students make desirable victims for fraud that’s committed by someone they know. Students are trusting, quick to share information and possessions, and openly welcome new friends. They usually have very little credit history, don’t check their credit reports or bank or credit card statements often, and don’t notice a problem quickly, if at all. In some cases, the crime comes to light long after the victim has lost touch with the perpetrator—sometimes years after college, when the victim applies for his first car loan or even a job.
College students can protect themselves while still enjoying all that academic life has to offer by following these tips:
1. Ask your school to protect your privacy. If your student identification card features your Social Security number, ask to obtain a replacement that doesn’t. If your professors post grades by Social Security numbers, ask them to use a system that is less obtrusive.
2. Safeguard personal documents. Find a safe, secure place to keep your credit cards, checkbook and Social Security card. For those documents you don’t need every day, consider sending them to your parents or lock them up in another secure location. Buy and use a crosscut shredder and destroy any unneeded documents containing personal identifying information, especially credit card applications.
3. Handle financial transactions online from a secure computer. Don’t use your regular mail for anything sensitive. Identity thieves love to steal mail, especially from unsecured campus mailboxes. Try to deposit outgoing mail directly at a U.S. Postal Service office or mailbox.
4. Don’t disclose personal information to strangers. Never give personal information to anyone who has called you on the telephone, no matter who they say they are. When performing transactions online, make sure your browser recognizes the site as authentic (typically, a secure address begins with “https” rather than “http” and the browser will feature a lock or similar icon when on a secure page). If you’re signing up for credit cards or other services at tables on campus, confirm that the organization is legitimate before handing over any information.
5. Limit the amount of information you place online. Whether on a university directory or a social networking site like MySpace or Facebook, remember that anyone can read what you post. Don’t make personal identifying information public. And do not write posts or upload photos that make it easy to determine where you are.
6. Keep anti-virus software, firewalls and all programs current. There is a reason many programs, including anti-virus software, periodically request that you update them. This is to protect you from unwanted intrusions on your computer.
7. Only download video and audio files from trusted sources. You never know which downloaded movie or song might have viruses lurking behind the scenes.
8. Avoid using stand-alone, unaffiliated ATMs on campus or in bars. Many larger universities have small, independent ATMs that are here today and gone tomorrow. Fraudsters use them to collect cardholder information, not to dispense cash. Once the user enters the card and PIN, the ATM sends an out-of-order or error message while it skims user financial and card data.
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