Without much money or assets of their own yet, college students may not worry about identity theft – but a new name, social security number and clean reputation are all ID thieves need to score big.
Identity theft is the main consumer complaint in the U.S. right now, and those between the ages of 20 and 29 reported the most ID theft complaints overall in 2013, says the Federal Trade Commission.
“Younger Americans still have a relatively new credit history, which is very attractive to ID thieves because there are more opportunities to open more accounts,” Becky Frost, consumer education manager for Experian’s ProtectMyID, told The Fiscal Times.
Young adults living away from home for the first time may also be less careful with their financial documents. In the chaos of dorm room life, they may forget to file them properly, not file them at all, or fail to shred them or dispose of them properly.
Thieves have many opportunities to steal sensitive information. ID theft could take place in dorm rooms, where other students often come and go easily; online, if a student forgets to log out from a financial website or doesn’t protect a smartphone with a password; or when filling out credit card applications on campus.
In this last instance, “the issue is how [these companies] are protecting your information,” Frost said. “Often, there’s just a box on a table and anyone can grab a bunch of paper. The free T-shirt isn’t worth the risk. We encourage students to sign up at the bank branch” whenever possible.
Once sensitive information is stolen, it’s not just about having money ripped off from a debit or credit account. Thieves can easily sell Social Security numbers, medical insurance information on the dark web – or open new credit card accounts or borrow money in your name.
This can deeply affect students’ credit scores and financial futures. A low credit score could boost the rate on a student loan, prevent you from qualifying for a first apartment, or even keep you from getting a job. (Several industries, including the financial services industry, often check your credit status as part of their routine background checks.) “This has implications in college and after students graduate,” Frost said.
No matter who you are, if your identity has been stolen, you should file a report at the local police station. You should also contact all three credit agencies and your financial institutions to let them know you have been a victim of ID theft.
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