By UnigoAttending college is an exciting period of life for students, one where they learn new things and take risks—but some risks are better than others. Not knowing the basics of cybersecurity or how to protect one’s personal data may make college students targets for theft. College can quickly transform into a period where a student’s identity is stolen and misused. False scholarship offers, exploitation of social media profiles, loan scams, unsecured computer networks, and frequent changes in address are just some of the unique areas in which college students may find themselves more likely to have their identities stolen, affecting future career and financial prospects. “We live in a connected world where our personal information is constantly at risk of falling into the wrong hands,” says Paige Hanson, Chief of Identity Education at LifeLock by Symantec. So, it’s important to protect your online information and other aspects of your digital life. Why protect your identity? While someone being able to see a person’s birthday on social media or street address on a public resume may not sound like a big deal, this vital information can be combined with financial records to open credit cards on their behalf or overuse existing lines of credit, putting the identity owner into debt and ruining their credit score. Your credit history is a marker that is essential for necessary purchases and apartment rentals, and it can sometimes even negatively affect employment prospects. Even worse, personal information can be used to commit other crimes that implicate the individual instead of the thief, causing lasting legal damages and headaches for everyone involved. By taking steps to keep their name, address, social security number, birthday, and other personal data safe and secure, the chance of identity theft may be drastically reduced for college students. What are the specific threats college students may face? Some identity thieves might prey upon college students in hopes that they are less informed than other adults on how to keep their information out of reach. Along with the possibility of being an easy target, college students might find themselves more vulnerable to certain kinds of identity theft based on the demands of their daily life. For example, the cost of higher education may make it more tempting than ever to apply to any and all scholarship opportunities or trust a random student loan refinancing group—but you should be wary of these offers. While there are some chances to reduce loans, this is often done through the federal government or through a university’s financial aid office directly. Students should make sure to fully research any organization that asks for their personal data in order to be considered for a scholarship, especially organizations that ask them to lay out money to be considered. While there might be a good academic support option out there, college students should take their time in making sure an opportunity is legitimate and that the personal information they offer will not be used for nefarious purposes. Naturally, much of the college experience and academic workload relies on the use of a computer. Whether students use one at the library or their own personal computer, tablet, or smartphone, they should be conscious of the security settings on their devices. Some identity thieves use malware on public computers to monitor the information that is typed in by a user. Email addresses and important academic documents might then be accessible if they were opened on a public computer. This same risk exists for those using a public WiFi network, even the one at a campus library. These networks are not secure and other users might be able to access what’s stored on a student’s electronic device. College students should be diligent about important documents that contain personal information; this includes being careful about how you send them as well as where you download them. If materials are printed, you should make sure to properly destroy the paper copy of the document to ensure the information is not misused. When you’re out and about, phone calls regarding sensitive matters should be conducted in a secluded space where they cannot be overheard. College students often move frequently or sublet their apartments seasonally. This means that while their mailing address might change more regularly than the average adult, it still might sometimes take much longer for companies and banks to update their systems. This means credit card offers, financial statements, and other sensitive materials may arrive for a student at an address where they no longer live, creating an opportunity for someone else to open an account in their name or use their identifying information in a problematic way. Solution: If students get in the habit of updating their mailing address, forwarding mail, and otherwise keeping their mail secure, they can lower their risk for identity theft. What else can college students do? Along with all of these tips, getting in the habit of reviewing your financial paperwork such as bank statements and student loan agreements—and properly destroying them afterwards—can help you catch any abnormal activity early on. Another option is for you to invest in an identity theft protection service like LifeLock. to monitor your personal information, ensuring your identity is safe and only used by the proper individual: YOU.