If you or your child are a college student preparing to head back to campus in the next few weeks, fighting fraud may not be at the top of the list of priorities. However, college students are very susceptible to identity theft and ID thieves can lurk in many places.
Now is the perfect time to establish good habits for monitoring and detecting fraud that can lay a path for healthy financial practices for the rest of a student's life.
Here are some tips from your Better Business Bureau (BBB) to help college-bound students fight identity theft on campus:
* Send sensitive mail to your permanent home or a post office box. School mailboxes are not always secure and often can be accessed easily in a dorm or apartment.
* Important documents should be stored away safely. This includes your U.S. 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.
* 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. When using an ATM or credit card machine, don't let anyone 'shoulder surf' your personal identification number (PIN).
* Guard your passwords and don't give them out to anyone. Use strong passwords and don't use the same password for all sites.
* Watch for phishing. Be vigilant and be careful of clicking on links in emails and texts; verify the content with the website.
* 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.
* Always check your credit or debit card statements closely for any suspicious activity. The sooner you identify and report any potential fraud, the less you'll suffer in the long run.
* Be careful when shopping online. Check out businesses on BBB.org. Look for the BBB Accredited Business seal; click on the seals to confirm that they are legitimate. Make sure to do your homework by checking out companies before making purchases off of social media ads. BBB has found many of these to be placed by companies in other countries, with complaints ranging from non-delivery of items, to counterfeit items being sent.
* Check your credit report at least once a year. While typically you are entitled to one free report a year from each of the three reporting bureaus (TransUnion, Experian and Equifax), due to the COVID-19 pandemic free reports are currently offered on a weekly basis until April 2022. The official site to access your credit reports is www.annualcreditreport.com. When you pull up your credit reports, look for and report any suspicious activity or inaccuracies.
Overall, the key is to be aware that as a college student, you're a strong target for ID theft, and awareness can help you avoid being a victim.
BBB will be hosting free document shredding events on October 16th in Hixson and October 17th in Chattanooga, so be watching for more information on these opportunities.
Also, online shopping scams have peaked at the top spot during COVID-19 and we encourage you to learn more about this and phishing scams on our Scams Tips page at bbb.org/scamtips. Our team is available at 423-266-6144 for help and advice.
Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.