Q. I know that ID theft is widespread. How can I protect my daughter from it when she goes away to college?
A. Identity theft can be a big issue for children at college because they’re living with new people in close quarters, they tend to be dependent on technology, and they are often handling their finances for the first time. Here are a few key steps that can help them protect themselves from identity thieves.
If your child has an account with your bank, notify the bank that she will be living away from home. Banks and credit card companies have become much more vigilant about spotting suspicious activity, including ATM and credit card transactions in an unfamiliar city. Just as it’s important to notify your bank and card companies when you travel, it’s also important to let them know that your child will be using the account in a new city while away at college. Otherwise, the bank may freeze the account until it can verify charges in an unexpected location. Notifying the bank also will make it easier for their fraud department to spot actual suspicious activity.
Have important mail delivered to your home, or encourage your student to go paperless. Because college life typically involves roommates and frequent moves and vacations, it’s best to have your student pay bills and check bank statements online or have important mail, including bank and credit card statements, delivered to your house instead of having it sit around in your student’s dorm, apartment or building entrance. There have been a few cases where thieves landed jobs in student apartment buildings to have easy access to students’ mail (and their personal information) while they were away, according to Adam Levin, chairman of Identity Theft 911. If your student wants to receive the statements at her apartment, remind her to stop the mail while she is away and to submit a change of address form when she moves. Either way, she should check bank statements and credit card statements frequently online so she can spot any suspicious charges early.
Warn your student to be careful with Web access. Internet security has improved at many colleges, says Kirk Herath, chief privacy officer for Nationwide Insurance. The safer systems require a password and ID for access. Warn your student not to conduct financial business—or share any other sensitive information—on a public Wi-Fi network. The same advice that can help protect you from insecure Wi-Fi networks when traveling also can help protect students when they’re away at college.
Protect your student’s computer and smartphone. Students store tons of personal and financial information on their laptop computers and smartphones, and they regularly use technology in public places. Have the phone and computer password-protected so a thief will have a tough time accessing the information if the device is stolen. Also, make sure your daughter has anti-virus and anti-malware software on her computer that’s programmed to update automatically.
Warn your kids about phishing scams. Most grown-ups know to be suspicious of requests for money or personal information from an email or phone call that seems to be from their bank or another company with which they do business. But college kids don’t always realize that these are common schemes by ID thieves to steal their information. And the phishing scams have become more sophisticated, trapping even the most skeptical adults.
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