Identity theft is one of the hardest-hitting crimes that consumers face, largely because it’s easy to pull off. Whether through old-fashioned means like dumpster-diving or stealing your driver’s license, or through more sophisticated cyber crimes like hacking into a university network, thieves can make off with your entire identity before you even know your information was compromised.
There are a lot of steps that college students can take to prevent this crime. Passcode and password locking their hardware, shredding those pesky pre-approved credit card offers, locking their dorm rooms … the list goes on. But what too many college students aren’t aware of is the wide variety of crimes that fall under identity theft.
Most individuals typically envision identity theft as someone using their credit card or opening a new account in their name. And that’s still a major threat, with the overwhelming majority of cases involving financial identity theft. But don’t be fooled into thinking your identity is safe just because your credit card hasn’t been compromised.
- Criminal identity theft: College students are particularly susceptible to criminal identity theft, considering they live in near so many strangers. If someone in your dorm or apartment building uses your identity at the time of arrest—simply because they know your name, apartment number or other minor details—you could be left facing charges for the unresolved issue. If this person happens to have borrowed or stolen your driver’s license, perhaps because you’re old enough to purchase alcohol and they’re not, then they may even be able to provide your complete identity to the police. You never find out about the incident, and therefore you never resolve it until a warrant is issued for your arrest.
- Medical identity theft: Much like criminal identity theft, college students have to safeguard their identities against people who want to use them to secure medical care. It might be something that seems harmless on the surface. Maybe, a girl in your building needs a way to access birth control without alerting her parents. But it can also be something very serious, such as someone stealing your identity in order to get a prescription for controlled substances. Not only can your medical record permanently reflect care that you never received, but you could find yourself involved in a crime if those prescriptions are then used for illegal distribution.
- Internet takeover: One of the scariest identity theft crimes for young people to envision just might be internet takeover. While the other forms of the crime are alarming, they can more easily be resolved. But when someone takes over your technology or gains access to your accounts, the fear of long-term damage is very real. They may just lock you out of your accounts for the fun of it, but it could lead to expulsion and lost job opportunities if a hacker takes over your university account and deletes your work, or accesses your Facebook account and uses it to post hate speech, embarrassing photos, or other potentially harmful content.
So what are college students supposed to do to protect their identities? The first step is to understand the different ways identity theft can hurt you. From there, it’s important to safeguard your information, your documents, even your computer, and to keep others from nabbing your sensitive data. Never give out your university passwords, your account passwords, or even your personal documents. You can be implicated in any crimes that are committed under your identity, and you can face lifelong
Eva Velasquez is president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.