Identity theft among college students on the rise

By Erin Eagan

During the school year, your minds are pre-occupied with worries about classes, bills and maybe even work and family responsibilities. But don’t let these become distractions leaving you vulnerable to preying identity thieves.

Not only are your money and assets at risk, so are your name and reputation — and the consequences can be devastating. Victims of identity theft can be left with a large amount of debt, damage to their credit rating and problems getting loans.

College students are prime targets
There are plenty of opportunities for scammers to go after college students, regardless of age. Here is where students are most vulnerable to theft:

  • Pre-approved credit card offers — Students are inundated with these types of offers in the mail. Be sure to shred any offer you get before you toss it in the recycle bin.
  • Social security number — Many colleges use social security numbers as Student IDs, so be careful when and where you give out this information. Do not carry your social security card with you; use your Driver’s License for identification.
  • PIN numbers and passcodes — You can never be too careful. Exercise caution and cover up when entering this information, and log out when you are finished.
  • Stolen laptops and other devices — With so much information stored on these devices, leave them in a safe place when not in use. Otherwise, one of the most important steps you can take is to establish a passwords or PINs that are required before making changes to your phone, mobile or i-Cloud account. 

10 Tips to Avoid Fraud
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has compiled a list of 10 tips to help you stay protected from identity theft this school year and beyond.

  1. Spot Imposters. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member, a charity or a company you do business with. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request — whether it comes as a text, a phone call or an email.
  2. Do online searches. Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam,” or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.
  3. Do not believe caller ID. Scammers use technology to fake or “spoof” caller ID information, so the name and number you see are not always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine. A good way is to use the number printed on a bill or statement.
  4. Do not pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear.
  5. Consider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods do not. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky business because it’s impossible to get your money back. That is also true with reloadable cards like MoneyPak, Reloadit or Vanilla. Government offices and honest companies will not require you to use these types of payment methods. They will also not ask you to pay in iTunes or Amazon gift cards (or any gift cards for that matter).
  6. Talk to someone. Before you give up money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert, or talk to a friend or family member. Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics.
  7. Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the Bureau of Consumer Protection. These calls are illegal, and often the products being sold are bogus. Don’t press 1 or any other number to be taken off the call list. That could lead to more calls.
  8. Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trial offers to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. Always review your monthly credit card statements for charges you do not recognize.
  9. Do not deposit a check and then wire money back. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be fake, you are responsible for repaying the bank all of the money and any fees associated with the transaction. If a deal seems too good to be true, it generally is.
  10. Sign up for free scam alerts. Get the latest tips about scams sent right to your inbox from the Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Federal Trade Commission.

Resolving identity theft can be a nightmare, so save yourself the hassle. Take the proper precautions to keep your identity secure. If you think you’ve been compromised, call DATCP’s Consumer Protection Hotline (800-422-7128; datcphotline@wi.gov) for guidance.