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FRIDAY, AUGUST 24, 2007
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Don’t let this happen to you
Stolen Identity
College students are most at risk for theft

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

You bought the dorm sheets and comforter, the mini-fridge and the laptop computer.

You made sure registration and medical forms were complete and talked about budgets and personal safety on campus.

But did you discuss security for your college-bound student’s personal identity?

Because college students heading out on their own are often targets for scams and frauds, this is a talk you need to have, said Tricia Pruitt, regional vice president for the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama.

“We have seen an ever-growing increase in calls from parents seeking assistance for their college-age child in matters regarding identity theft and fraud,” said Michele McDaniel, president of the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama.

The BBB decided to help by providing information to colleges, students and parents.

Pruitt and other staff and board members recently shared what to watch for with several orientation groups at Calhoun Community College. These facts are good for adults to remember, too, but students at The University of Alabama, Auburn University and other colleges who are away from home for the first time are particularly susceptible to identity theft, Pruitt said.

A survey conducted by Impulse Research found that college students have a blasé attitude when it comes to money matters and privacy:

  • About 49 percent of college students get credit card applications almost weekly, and 30 percent throw them in the trash without destroying them.

  • Nearly 30 percent of college students rarely or never reconcile their credit card and checking account balances.

  • Nearly half of all students have grades and other items posted by Social Security numbers.

    That makes identity theft and fraud more likely at college, and about half of all cases involve people they know. Parents need to make sure students understand that such fraud cases can affect their ability to get money now, as well as their long-term credit records.

    Students need to keep up with their wallets and purses at all times, whether in class, at the mall, at a party or even in their dorm room or apartment, said Pruitt. They should not carry a Social Security card in their wallet, or have that number printed on checks or driver licenses.

    “Identity theft is a crime that involves the deliberate use of false or stolen information, such as a persons’ name, birth date, Social Security number, address and bank account number to obtain merchandise and cash, virtually destroying your credit and financial reputation in the process,” said Pruitt. It can affect your ability to get a student loan, buy a car, rent an apartment or land a job.

    “And this college-age group, with unblemished, fresh credit histories, is now the No. 1 target of identity thieves,” she said.

    One reason they are vulnerable is because this age group are more used to computer technology and not afraid of entering information online or shopping online.

    “Remember that ID thieves can be at the other end of the telephone or Internet, and they may steal mail out of your mailbox or trash out of your garbage can,” she said.

    Pre-approved credit card documents, which students may get in the mail after sharing a credit card with a parent, should be shredded before going into the trash. You can remove your name from these pre-approved lists by calling (888) 567-8688 or going to www
    .optoutprescreen. com.

    Scams

    Tricia Pruitt addresses Calhoun Community College students about identity thefts and financial scams.
    Daily photo by John Godbey
    Tricia Pruitt addresses Calhoun Community College students about identity thefts and financial scams.
    College-age students — along with people of all ages — should also watch out for these scams: guarantees for financial aid or scholarships; bogus weight-loss products or health cures; e-mails and calls “phishing” for personal information, such as bank account numbers; offers for vacation trips, cars and jobs that sound too good to be true, as well as offers for free merchandise that may lead to monthly membership fees on your credit card; and notices about sweepstakes, foreign lotteries and “Nigerian letters.”

    The rule is simple: don’t respond to anything, even an e-mail that appears to be from your bank, by entering your personal and account data. If it seems legitimate, first make a call to your bank or other company using numbers provided on other documents, or check with the BBB and family members.

    The Better Business Bureau recommends paying bills and monitoring accounts privately online to eliminate paper trails that others may access. Don’t share your password, and don’t call up information on the computer and leave it where others can see it. Be sure your computer is secured with a firewall before putting in financial information.

    Shred all documents and bills you no longer need and store those you need in a safe place. College students may want to purchase a box or item that can be locked. Those who have jobs should request direct payroll deposit into bank accounts.

    Credit card warning

    Once they have some of your information, identity thieves may call your credit card issuer to change the billing address on your credit card account and then make purchases and run up charges. Because your bills are being sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there’s a problem.

    They may also open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts are reported on your credit report. They can even establish cell phone service or get a car loan in your name. If they can get a driver license with your name on it, that opens more doors.

    Danger signs

    Be alert for these signs of identity theft:

  • Unexpected phone calls from creditors

  • Unexplained charges on your credit card bill

  • Unauthorized withdrawals from your checking account

  • Getting turned down for credit

  • Passwords on accounts that suddenly stop working

  • Missing bills

  • Odd information on a check of credit reports

    If you’re a victim

    Here’s what to do if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft:

  • Immediately call one of the three major credit reporting agencies (see adjacent contact information for Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), as well as your bank and credit card companies, and ask for a “fraud alert” on your accounts.

  • Report the crime to the police.

  • Call the Better Business Bureau for assistance.

  • Change passwords and user names on accounts.

  • Keep a detailed log of everything you do to correct the problem.

  • Close affected accounts and monitor your credit report.

    Patrice Stewart

    Contact agencies

    Here are contacts you may need:

  • Better Business Bureau, phone (800) 239-1642 or www.northalabama.bbb.org

  • To check your credit report for possible ID theft or other information, which is free once a year at each credit reporting agency, go to www.annualcreditreport
    .com or call (877) 322-8228. The three credit reporting company Web sites and phones are www.equifax.com (800) 525-6285; www.experian.com (888) 397-3742; and www.transunion.com (800) 680-7289.

  • To register your telephone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission “Do Not Call” list, go to www.donotcall.gov or call (888) 382-1222.

  • To remove your name from pre-approved credit card lists, call (888) 567-8688 or go to www.optoutprescreen.com.

  • The Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft hot line is (877) ID-THEFT (877) 438-4338.

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