College Student’s Guide for Protecting Against Identity Theft

  • By David Lukic
  • Published: Feb 07, 2022
  • Last Updated: Mar 18, 2022

College is a time of new friends, new experiences, and opportunities to expand your horizons. Unfortunately, along with the new freedoms come some responsibilities, like protecting your identity from theft. In new surroundings with lots of new connections, it can be challenging to stay on top of all of the information swirling around you. That’s what hackers and thieves are hoping for when they make college students identity theft victims.

What is College Identity Theft?

In college, it’s not uncommon to borrow a friend’s ID to swipe yourself into the dorm or to pick up another person’s phone at a party to add your choices to a group take-out order. Unfortunately, this free-flowing atmosphere is full of potential for identity theft, which is stealing aspects of someone’s personal information to defraud them.

Think about it: your phone likely contains links to many accounts in your name, even banking and spending apps like Venmo. If a stranger has your unlocked phone for even a few minutes, they can potentially add a keylogger to it that will report your data to them, things like your PIN numbers and passwords. Or a savvy hacker may be able to redirect your email to another account, allowing them to reset your two-factor authentication to their phone and hack into your accounts.

Facts About Identity Theft

Over 1.4 million people are victims each year, and identity theft is commonplace for college students. The average victim loses $1,100 for a total of $13 billion stolen annually. And that cost doesn’t count the time and effort it takes to reverse identity theft and undo the damage to your credit rating, bank account, or student loan eligibility.

There are many forms of identity theft, and they are changing with the times. In the past, thieves had to make a driver’s license in another person’s name or apply for a credit card using stolen credentials. Now, if a hacker can get into someone’s phone, they can potentially drain accounts very quickly.

The current generation of college students raised with technology at their fingertips is more likely than most to trust it. Recent studies of hacking techniques show that those ages 18-24 are more likely than senior citizens to fall for phishing attacks, which allow hackers to access personal information like PINs by clicking on an SMS, text, or email link. These messages:
● Tend to require a quick response.
● Appear to be from an official source like a bank or your boss.
● Appeal to emotions, such as greed, fear, or anger.
● May download malware onto your phone or computer.

student identity theft

What Every College Student Should Know About Student Identity Theft

You are your own best identity monitoring service because you know what regular activity is in your accounts. Phishing is the most effective form of student identity theft, but there are many other techniques that hackers use, including piecing together information for sale on the dark web, such as through T-Mobile’s massive data breach. While this is hard to fight once your information is out there, you can practice good habits that will help to protect you, including:
● Use two-factor authentication on all critical accounts.
● Consider adding identity monitoring services to watch for red-flag activity in accounts.
● Do not reuse passwords; it’s best to get randomly generated passwords that you haven’t used before.
● Use a throw-away email address to sign up for online accounts, and only use your personal email for important business. You’re less likely to respond to a spam or phishing email that can hack your accounts.
● Before downloading phone apps, check to make sure they are legitimate. Some are lookalikes of popular apps that just seek to download malware onto your device and will steal your personal information and access to your accounts.
● Keep your computer and phone operating systems up to date to avoid bots and other malware that creeps in by exploiting known weaknesses.
● Avoid free Wi-Fi in coffee shops or even in a friend’s room. Free, open Wi-Fi networks are an invitation for hackers to steal your data. Using a VPN service that encrypts your usage will help mask your identity.

One form of student identity theft at colleges is SIM switching. This happens when an individual gets the PIN number for your mobile device account and asks the carrier to move your number to a new device. By doing this, the thief has access to your two-factor identification for all accounts that send text messages. The key to preventing this type of identity theft is protecting your PIN, including changing it if your personal information is part of a breach.

Another type that targets collegians is student loan identity theft. Someone with your personal information can actually apply for loans in your name. That makes it crucial to protect all personally identifiable information like Social Security numbers and your FAFSA PIN.
If you think you are a victim of identity theft, you should report it to campus police, to your bank, and the Federal Trade Commission ( Move quickly to change passwords. Call your mobile carrier to ensure your number is not ported to a new phone.

Student Identity Theft and Your Future

Identity theft can have negative consequences even for an innocent victim. For example, if your credit is damaged by identity theft that is not discovered for a long time, you may not be able to get student loans, and some employers may disregard your application because a poor credit report is a reflection of your trustworthiness. Eventually, undiscovered student identity theft can impact your ability to rent an apartment, get a mortgage, or get a visa to travel overseas.

Why College Students Make Prime Identity Theft Targets

College students are very busy and therefore unlikely to discover identity theft immediately – unless their phone stops working because the number has been stolen. Students are also likely to use many phone apps (vulnerable to malware and hacking) and trust messages they receive (making them phishing targets). In addition, there are lots of opportunities to steal a student’s information on busy campuses, like unsecured Wi-Fi networks, shoulder surfing, and phones stolen at parties.

Why College Students Almost Never Think They Are Identity Theft Targets

It’s human nature to deny reality. We humans generally don’t think about bad things that might happen to us, instead people hope to win the lottery or get an incredible job offer. Students generally assume they’re smart enough that they wouldn’t fall for a phishing email, but those who are rushed and don’t examine an email closely may click on the link provided without due consideration.

Where are College Students Vulnerable?

Dorm Rooms – if you leave your devices around when a roommate has friends over, someone may have the opportunity to figure out your PIN.
Smartphones and Social Media – leaving social media accounts open for all to see allows hackers to compile personal information about you that may allow them to break into your accounts.
Free Music and Games – beware of apps that may introduce malware to your devices, becuase they’re fake or because other malware is bundled with the download.
Free Apps – only download verified apps and be sure your antivirus software is updated to block dangerous and opportunistic malware.
Passwords – never reuse passwords, and always sign up for two-factor authentication. Even a minor breach in a social media account can expose passwords that are reused across devices.
Security Questions – don’t answer quizzes about your first pet or the song that was popular when you were born because these are all designed to gather personal information about you, including to hack the answers to your security questions.
Wi-Fi– avoid open Wi-Fi networks because it’s easy to intercept information sent on phones, including log-in credentials for payment apps and bank accounts.
Credit Cards – payment terminals pose the potential for card skimmers that steal information. Monitor your card statements for fraud.

How to Protect a Student From Identity Theft

Strategies for Protecting Your Identity While You’re in College


What You Can Do to Avoid College Identity Theft

Vigilance must become part of your daily college life. Being lazy about identity theft is an invitation to the massive headache of untangling compromised accounts. These strategies should help:
● Set up alerts for debit and credit card use.
● Use a random password generator, a password-protected password keeper and add two-factor authentication on all accounts.
● Keep accurate records about borrowing to ensure you’re not a victim of student loan identity theft.
● Make it a habit to check your accounts once or twice a week using Wi-Fi with strong security.
● Request a free credit check from each of the major credit reporting agencies at least once annually to ensure that nobody has opened credit cards in your name or taken loans using your information (credit reports are available via ).
● Do not reuse passwords or PIN numbers.

A Teacher’s Guide on How to Protect a Student From Identity Theft

A Teacher’s Guide on How to Protect a Student From Identity Theft are approached to help students with identity theft issues should urge the student to report the incident to campus police and counsel the student to contact their bank, mobile phone company, and the federal trade commission.

A Campus Police Officer’s Guide on What to Do When Encountering an Identity Theft Victim

Campus officers should write and generate an incident report. The student should get a copy of the report to use with banks and creditors to reverse fraudulent charges and regain access to their mobile devices and other compromised accounts. In addition, the incident should be reported to the federal trade commission.

There are few substitutes for vigilance when it comes to identity theft. Students should share as few personal details as possible on social media and regularly track their purchases or debits. Taking a few moments to reread and validate the sender of an email that seeks immediate action may also keep students from unknowingly giving account access to a hacker.


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