Winsett: College students need to protect their identity

Winsett: College students need to protect their identity

September 9th, 2011 by By Jim Winsett in Business Diary

Q: We are concerned about identity theft for our college kids. What advice does BBB have on student security?

A: As parents, you are justified in your concern.

As college students get settled on campus, fighting fraud may not be at the top of their list of priorities. College students are susceptible to identity theft, however, and Better Business Bureau recommends that they take seven simple steps to protect themselves on campus.

In 2010, 8.1 million Americans -- or 3.5 percent of the population -- became victims of identity theft, according to the 2011 Identity Fraud Survey conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research and sponsored by BBB. The average mean cost of identity theft is $631 and the average time to resolve identity fraud is 33 hours -- valuable study time.

"Friendly fraud" accounts for 14 percent of all ID theft crimes.

This means that new roommates and friends have just as much potential of being as sneaky as a foreign-based scam artist phishing on the Internet.

And identity thieves -- friend or foe -- think nothing of Dumpster diving (or rifling through unattended trash cans) for nonshredded paperwork or even taking mail from unlocked mailboxes (or off a desk).

They can cruise social networking sites looking for some personal tidbit that can unlock a wealth of information elsewhere.

Sadly in this day and age, you cannot always trust your peers. It is extremely important for students to be vigilant in monitoring bank and credit card statements to spot unauthorized activity. Good advice for tech savvy college students is to sign up for security alerts on their financial accounts. Have alerts sent to your mobile phone so you will know if any changes have been made to your account.

BBB recommends that college-bound students take the following seven steps to fight identity theft on campus:

  1. Send sensitive mail to your parents' home or a post office box. School mailboxes are not always secure and often can be accessed easily in a dorm or apartment.
  2. Important documents should be stored under lock and key. This includes your Social Security card, passport and bank and credit card statements. Shred credit card offers and any paper documents that have sensitive financial information rather than just tossing them out.
  3. Never lend your credit or debit card to anyone. Just say no if your friend wants to borrow your card or asks you to co-sign for a loan or financing for items like a TV.
  4. Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus and spyware software. Always install any updates and patches to your computer's operating system or browser software, which help keep your computer safe from any new advances by identity thieves online.
  5. Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. The sooner you identify any potential fraud, the less you will suffer in the long run.
  6. Check out unfamiliar websites with the BBB. Look for the BBB Accredited Business seal along with other trust seals; click on the seals to confirm that they are legitimate.
  7. Check your credit report at least once a year. You are entitled to one free report a year from each of the three reporting bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. Look for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies. You can do this for free by visiting

Get answers to your questions each Friday from Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau Inc., which serves Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Submit questions to his attention by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN, 37401-1447, or by emailing him at dflessner@