How university students can protect themselves from ID theft

For many students, their university years are when they start to build their credit. This makes sense since they may be getting their first credit card or applying for services under their own name if they’ve moved out. As a university student, while building a good credit score is essential, you also need to be aware of ID theft as you could become a victim if you’re not careful.

If you’re not familiar with identity theft, it refers to when thieves steal your personal information. With that data, they can take over your accounts or even open new accounts under your name. Once you’ve become a victim of ID theft, it can be a huge hassle to clean your record, which is why you should take a few steps to protect yourself.

Protect your information

Generally speaking, you should only be giving out your personal information if it’s for a specific reason or a trusted source is asking you for your details. It’s normal for a bank to request your address or phone number when you’re applying for a credit card in person, but if someone cold calls you asking for similar information, you’re better off not saying anything.

Here are some quick tips to help you protect your identity:

●      Choose passwords that include upper and lower case characters, numbers, and symbols

●      Have different passwords for each website

●      Check every transaction on your credit card statements

●      Never post any personal information on social media, such as your mother’s maiden name or where you went to high school

●      Shred any documents with your personal information

●      Unless you called them first, never give your information away over the phone

●      Never tell anyone your PIN number

●      Digitally wipe all your electronic devices clean before selling or disposing of them

While the above procedures may seem excessive to some people, it’s actually just a small sample of the things you should be doing to prevent ID theft. The reality is that thieves are getting smarter, and they’re always looking for ways to get your information.

As a university student, you may not be as aware of fraud, so thieves may target you. Keep in mind that many thieves may also hold onto your information for years before using it. This is why it’s always a good idea to change your passwords and PINs regularly.

Common scams to be aware of

Although scams are continually evolving, there are a few that have stuck around for a while. If you understand how these scams work, you’ll be aware when you might be a potential victim.

Phishing - This is when thieves target you by email, phone, or even text and pretend to be a legit institution or service that you do business with. For example, you might get an email from someone saying they work for a bank or that a streaming service needs you to update your credit card information. If you’re not sure if this is a legit email, call the service using the public number available to find out if they had indeed contacted you.

CRA Scam - With this scam, thieves pretend that they work for the CRA and that you owe back taxes. If you don’t pay immediately, you’ll be arrested or booted out of the country (they often target people on student visas). The obvious sign with this scam is that they’ll tell you that you need to pay right away with bitcoin or gift cards. They’ll also demand that you stay on the phone and act normal until the payments have been made.

Debt relief - Scammers may target recent college or university graduates who are struggling with their student debt. They’ll offer to reduce your interest rates or clear your debt as long as you provide them with your personal information and a one-time fee. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix when it comes to debt or improving your credit score. Getting out of debt takes time and careful management.

What to do if you’re a victim of fraud

Even if you take preventative measures to protect your identity, you can still become a victim. While it can be disappointing, there are some steps you should take immediately:

Gather your documents - If there’s any form of a paper trail, such as emails or bank statements that show the fraud, be sure to put everything together. Having this information will be handy since you’ll likely need to take additional steps to clear your name.

Contact your financial institution - In most cases, ID theft results in unauthorized charges to your credit cards or bank accounts. If this is the case, contact your bank’s fraud department immediately and provide them with all the information that you’ve just gathered.

Change all your passwords - It’ll likely be impossible to figure out exactly how the fraudster got your information, so change your passwords as a precaution.

Get a police report - Depending on the type of fraud, you may need to get a police report with a formal reference number. With this in hand, you can provide it as additional evidence during the investigation period.

Monitor your identity - Since you’re now a victim of identity fraud, you’ll want to monitor your credit profile with both Transunion and Equifax. Start by ordering your credit report from both agencies to see if there are any open accounts you’re not aware of. You’ll also want to add account alerts to catch thieves if they try to use your information at a later date.

Final thoughts

As a university student, you may not think twice about giving out your personal information. It’s not like you’re just shouting it out to anyone who’s listening, but it’s not uncommon to be asked a lot of questions from various sources at this time. Keep your information close and always keep up to date on scams.

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. As a completely self-taught, do-it-yourself investor with no formal training, he makes money easy to understand for all Canadians. His specialties include personal finance, budget travel, millennial money, credit cards, and trending destinations.

Barry Choi is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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