I received this press release from the NYS Consumer Protection Board about educating your children about ID theft and good safety precautions as they head off to college:
As students prepare for the fall semester of college, the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB) is reminding young consumers to protect their identities while working on their computers, using the Internet, living in their dorms or while shopping. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that the 18-29 year-old age group is one of the largest growing segments of the population to fall victim to identity theft.
“Going to college is one of the most exciting times in a person’s life, as a higher education will open doors in many areas,” said Mindy A. Bockstein, Chairperson and Executive Director of the CPB. “But one door students should leave closed is the one that connects outsiders to their personal information. Parents, students and college administrators are all concerned about safety on campus, but seldom do they consider issues pertaining to identity theft. Many students think identity thieves don’t want their information, since there is little financial value. They should think again. An identity has value all by itself, and since kids generally have clean records, they can be used to obtain credit. Therefore, the CPB is urging students to safeguard their personal identifiable information as they begin the new college year.”
College students often innocently leave themselves vulnerable to identity theft by making personal identifiable information (PII), which is usually a person’s name combined with their address, Social Security number (SSN), credit and/or debit card numbers, individual account or bank numbers, available to others. For example, PII may be compromised by purchasing items through Internet sites which are not secure; by leaving offers, credit card solicitations, medical benefits explanation or other items easily accessible to roommates or others; or by not shredding documents.
PII may also fall into the wrong hands by being careless with student loan information or identification numbers; and/or by talking to a trusted person within earshot of others and revealing information that, once
overheard, can then be used to perpetrate identity theft.
The CPB recommends that students follow these tips to help prevent identity theft while attending college:
1. Make Privacy your Policy at all times. Be aware of websites or businesses that track, store and/or retain your PII and ask for their privacy policies.
2. Never enter PII in public computers (such as libraries, classrooms, or others), or leave your personal computer open or unattended in public places.
3. Password-protect your computer using a complex series of upper and lower case letters and numbers.
4. Question if your college or university uses your SSN as a Student ID number. While in New York, it’s
against the law, not all states have laws prohibiting this practice. However, most public colleges and universities asking for your SSN are governed by the federal Privacy Act of 1974. This act requires such
schools to provide a statement telling students how their SSN is used. Additionally, under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), which protects the privacy of student educational records, the collection and use of student SSNs must be minimized and safeguarded. It’s best to try to obtain an alternate number if your school still uses the SSN for IDs. Read more about the use of your SSN and Identity Theft.
5. Don’t give out your PII on social networking sites. While MySpace, Facebook, Twitter or other social networks are part of current culture, they are not the place to share information that should remain confidential.
6. Never e-mail or instant message credit card numbers, bank account information or other PII to anyone. Be careful of Phishing attempts that may come to your e-mail address and are designed to trick people into supplying their PII for unauthorized use. Read the CPB’s Phishing Scam Prevention Tips for details.
7. Only make online purchases on secure Internet sites (those with a closed lock logo).
8. Be careful when downloading music, movies and other file-sharing type programs, as these may provide access to your PII stored on your computer, and may be links to malware.
9. Keep spyware protection updated.
10. Check your credit report for free three times a year through AnnualCreditReport.com.
11. Shred documents that are no longer necessary and retain other records with PII in a safe place or in a lockbox.
12. Limit information in your wallet. Carry only the credit cards you need and your Social Security card when absolutely necessary. Make copies and/or a list of items your wallet containing PII, and store those copies in a secure place.
To raise awareness and educate students and staff about identity theft, mounting debt from credit card offers, and other issues impacting college students, the CPB has developed specialized resources and organized a strategic College Tour providing workshops. This effort is part of the Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation Program, which officially began in January 2009 when Governor David A. Paterson’s identity theft law became effective. Additionally, the CPB’s experts regularly assist victims with the aftermath of identity theft. If you become a victim of identity theft, need assistance, or wish to learn more about the CPB’s Program, visit our website at www.nysconsumer.gov, or call the CPB’s Consumer Assistance Hotline at 1-800-697-1220.
The CPB, established in 1970 by the New York State Legislature, is the State’s top consumer watchdog and think tank in the Executive Branch. The CPB’s core mission is to protect New Yorkers by publicizing unscrupulous and questionable business practices and product recalls; conducting investigations and hearings; enforcing the “Do Not Call” law; researching issues; developing legislation; creating consumer education programs and materials; responding to individual marketplace complaints by securing voluntary agreements; and, representing the interests of consumers before the Public Service Commission and other State and federal agencies.
To file a consumer complaint with the NYS Consumer Protection Board (CPB), call our toll-free hotline at 800-697-1220 or visit the CPB’s website at www.nysconsumer.gov. In addition to the online complaint form, the website is home to important consumer safety information.