Q&A: How to protect your identity this holiday season
As the holidays approach and gift-giving ensues, identity protection becomes a priority. The Daily Cougar asked Becky Frost, senior manager at Experian’s ProtectMyID, how college students can avoid identity theft this holiday season.
The Daily Cougar: Are college students targets for identity thieves? Why?
Becky Frost: Yes. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 make up the largest percentage of identity theft victims, according to Federal Trade Commission data. Many college students have little credit history, making them a preferred target for identity thieves.
TDC: What are some common methods that thieves use to steal identities?
BF: Most identity theft still occurs in mundane, nontechnical ways, like a wallet being stolen from a drawer or a purse taken from an unlocked dorm room.
TDC: What are the signs of having a compromised identity?
BF: Signs of a compromised identity include mysterious charges to your credit or debit card for purchases you didn’t make, unexplained dings in your credit report or receiving notifications for changes in your bills and monthly statements that you didn’t request. To avoid identity theft, follow our Identity Theft Checklist and Identity Fraud Checklist.
TDC: What are the short- and long-term consequences of having a stolen identity? What can happen if it’s not taken care of right away?
BF: The consequences extend beyond financial damage. False criminal records or delinquent accounts imply a lack of trustworthiness and responsibility for victims who are searching for a job. Other victims lose the opportunity to make dreams come true. They may be unable to obtain financing for a home, car or education because identity theft ruined their credit scores. In rare cases, victims may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
TDC: How can you get your life back in order after your identity has been stolen?
BF: Depending on the severity and complexity of identity theft, there may be varying degrees in the difficulty of clearing your record. A stolen credit card is easier to take care of than someone who is using your Social Security number to work and has filed a bankruptcy with your name. Resolving the damage of identity theft is a burdensome task. Victims must prove that they didn’t open the accounts, make the charges, ignore the late payment notices or court notices or receive the medical services that constitute fraud. Here are some Identity Recovery Tips for 11 different types of fraud.
TDC: What are ways to protect your identity while establishing your credit?
BF: Getting a credit card can be a great way to start establishing credit, but never complete a credit card application at a table or booth on campus. Instead, go through the credit card company’s secure website or contact your bank before you go to school.
Other precautions that should be taken include never providing your credit card information to acquaintances such as roommates. If shopping online, make sure you are making purchases off a secure website. Also make sure important documents, such as a Social Security card, are stored in a safe and secure location.
TDC: Are there any websites or workshops that help young people establish credit and protect their identities?
BF: Consider enrolling in a protection product, like ProtectMyID, to do the things you can’t do for yourself, such as scanning the Internet daily for your information and alerting you to more than 50 indicators of fraud that may be a sign your identity has been compromised. In today’s digital world, a person’s credit status can change on a dime, and spotting unauthorized activity quickly can be a key to halting identity theft.