College students face risk of identity theft

Amber Brockman, News Editor

College students are very susceptible to identity theft, with many scams accommodated toward them, according to the Better Business Bureau.

By taking proper precautions for monitoring and detecting fraud, the likelihood of becoming a victim of identity theft is greatly reduced.

“The easiest way to avoid identity theft is to keep your personal and financial information secure,” assistant criminal justice professor Matt Richie said.

Students should never give out their Social Security number, unless absolutely necessary, or allow anyone to use their identification for any purpose.

It is also vital to use strong passwords and be sure of who you’re talking to on social media.

“Most attempts to gain personal information is through communication on the internet,” University Police Detective Mike Bartlein said. “A common way they do this is to tempt the student with an offer too good to be true.”

The BBB recommends taking the following steps to prevent identity theft on campus:

  • Send sensitive mail to your permanent home address or a post office box.
  • Important documents should be stored away safely.
  • Never lend your credit or debit card to anyone.
  • Guard your passwords.
  • Watch for phishing.
  • Make sure your computer has up to date antivirus and spyware software.
  • Always check your credit and debit card statements.
  • Be careful when shopping online.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year.

“There are multiple ways for a student to become a victim of identity theft, but the most common is to give away your personal information to someone on the internet or by phone,” Bartlein said. “For example, a student receives a call from a person pretending to work for financial aid, or a student loan department requesting private information. The student is told without providing this information the services would be put on hold.”

Students should be aware of their surroundings and keep their personal effects, such as wallets and purses, close by.

“The residence halls pose a unique problem because of the communal nature of the facilities,” Richie said. “Individuals can and often walk into a friend’s room with another friend and students may not think twice about it until there is something missing.”

Although anyone is at risk of identity theft, it has become exceedingly rare because most people are careful with their personal information, and technology has evolved substantially to protect this type of information.

“In 2019, there were a reported 5,023 cases of identity theft in Wisconsin,” Richie said. “Given the 5.8 million individuals who live in Wisconsin, the odds are certainly in your favor of not being a victim of identity theft.”

Richie said that the hype surrounding identity theft among college students is rooted in the idea that they are inherently irresponsible.

“In my experience, I find that college students are more responsible than many give them credit for – they know not to share their Social Security number, their phones and laptops are typically not just left out and, for the number of things left behind in class, I have never found a wallet or purse,” Richie said. “This tells me that students are more aware of the pitfalls of technology and act accordingly.”

If someone suspects or knows they are a victim of identity theft, they should immediately notify the police.

“The victim should put a hold on all their financial accounts,” Bartlein said. “The victim would need to place a fraud alert and request a credit report with one of three credit bureaus; Equifax, Experian and Transunion.”

With the right information and a knowledge of how to extract funds from someone’s bank account, victims could be left penniless in a matter of minutes.

“There are legal safeguards in place to retrieve the stolen money but it will require the victims of identity theft to do the legwork to get their money back which could take days to weeks to months until they are made whole again,” Richie said. “But the bottom line remains that students are protective of their personal information.”