College students have two strikes against them when it comes to identity theft. For starters, the average cost of losses for identity theft for people between the ages of 18 and 24 is $1,156—roughly five times more than the amount lost by other age groups, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. What's more, the research group also says that identity theft for that age range also takes the longest to detect, at an average of 132 days.
It comes as no surprise, then, that college students are an easy target for cyber criminals. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission reported a total of 12,062 complaints for people 19 or under, representing 6 percent of identity theft reported. That number increased to 18 percent of ages 20 to 29 percent, totaling 37,568 complaints.
Fortunately, there are some steps that college students can take to lower their chances of becoming a victim of identity theft.
1. Be smart about social media. With more college students turning to sites like Facebook and Instagram to post personal information, it's more important than ever that they are discreet about what they share, have the proper privacy settings in place, and only accept 'friends' on these sites that they know and trust.
2. Have important mail sent to a permanent address. Mail is easily accessible in a busy college dorm, and important information can sometimes land in the wrong mailbox or become intercepted before it reaches the intended recipient. To ensure that mail with personal information remains confidential, have important deliveries sent to a permanent address, such as your home address.
3. Keep a locked safe in your dorm or apartment. High-traffic areas like college dorms are often accessed by people you might not know so well (your roommate's hometown friend visiting for the weekend, for example). Keep important documents like your Social Security card, passport and important financial documents in a locked safe, kept in a hidden place, such as under your bed.
4. Protect your electronic devices. First and foremost, be sure your laptop, smartphone and other devices are password-protected. Use complex passwords to log into your laptop, as well as for all sites you visit, and update these periodically. Furthermore, update your laptop with the latest anti-virus software and upgrades. Also be sure to use a secure network so no one can intercept your communications. What's more, refrain from allowing those you don't know well or trust to use your electronics. A peer, for example, could install spyware on your computer without you knowing—until, of course, it's too late.
5. Never lend your credit card to someone. Even if a friend wants to borrow your credit card to purchase, say, tickets to a sporting event or concert, handle the transaction on your own. It's also wise to avoid co-signing with a friend for an off-campus apartment or even a flat-screen TV for your dorm. It's always better not to share this type of confidential financial information with a friend or peer, and co-signing invites liability risks as well, leaving you responsible for covering someone else's payments.
6. Monitor your financial accounts and credit reports. Pay close attention to your credit-card statements and bank account statements to detect any suspicious activity. It's important to remember to be your best advocate when it comes to protecting your identity. Getting into the habit of monitoring your accounts can help stop identity theft in its tracks. It's also a valuable habit to begin now and carry on into adulthood.