Back to school. Every year is more surreal as our kids seem to age at warp speed.
This is especially true for parents faced with tearfully remembering the first day of kindergarten as they drive away from newly furnished dorm rooms with college-level well-wishes fresh off their lips.
One thing that most of us aren’t banking on for our students is just how much identity theft danger lurks for our newly minted matriculates.
We’ve worried about their living accommodations. We’ve agonized over their scholarships, loans and savings. We’ve wrung our hands about their social lives away from home for the first time. But if we’re being honest, we’ve given little to no attention to this increasingly alarming issue.
Jonathan Berr, writing for Consumer Reports, notes that college loan fraud is up 120 percent, and college students are prime pickings for “phishing” scams. The rationale is simple. There’s much less financial transaction history for college kids, so the trail of criminal deceit is easier to slither around for thieves.
Our freshly festooned college kids, wielding their plastic for the first time, need to take special precaution. For instance, these new-to-card-newbies need to be careful of “shoulder suffering,” according to identity theft expert Adam Levin. This low-tech theft of credit card information is the simple act of looking over shoulders to snag numbers.
Jerri Ledford, in an article for The Balance, notes that college kids’ Social Security numbers are a hot commodity for identity thieves, and this population is particularly vulnerable because of the significant need to use their SSN for many different logins, forms and processes.
So, the list soars from a low-tech peeping of PINS to some of the most sophisticated theft you can imagine. All this begs the question of what to do?
Leaning on Levin’s expertise, Berr notes the need to guard numbers. He recommends never carrying Social Security cards and driver’s licenses together. Also, some old but wise cyber safety is issued: use strong passwords, don’t use public Wi-Fi for transactions and don’t give out your personal information on social media.
Many colleges are wise to this growing issue and are helping students navigate new territory. Argosy University, for instance, has a Behavioral Sciences blog that addresses this very issue for their students, directing them to the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center (idtheftcenter.org) for more detailed information and direction. This independent, nation-wide resource might be just the thing families need to consider as part of the preparatory work for the early days of their collegian’s journey.
Other valuable resources and guidance both for “online” and “offline” protection for college students can be found via the Better Business Bureau. There are extensive lists for both online and offline suggestions located on the BBB website, specifically for college students.
Don’t assume this won’t happen to your student. Clark.com, sharing a Javelin Strategy & Research study from four years ago, notes that 22 percent of students have been notified by various credit institutions that they have been the victims of identity fraud. They found out the hard way: from bill collectors and credit rejections. That’s difficult to hear as an adult with years of life under your belt, but to hear that as a struggling college student is a heavy burden we don’t want our kids to haul around.
As school moves into full swing this year, let’s make sure that a good dose of the education we’re providing our students is about how to navigate the dangers of identity theft. Our kids are already stressed and stretched enough.
They’re trying to chart a path for successful financial futures. Let’s help them avoid any missteps as they take their first steps on this exciting route toward their true identity, not some scammer’s fake one.
Richard Singleton, MACE, MANFC, LPC, is the president of STARRY in Round Rock.