Identity theft real threat to students, can be prevented through vigilance
With a life dominated by tests, papers and studying, the last thing a college student wants to think about is having his or her identity stolen.
Unfortunately, that’s reality.
Social media sites, credit cards, online shopping – there are more ways than ever for a student, or anyone, to have his or her identity stolen. Phishing scams, which involve people posing as legitimate companies in order to get information, are also becoming more common.
“They can do it randomly. That’s probably one of the most common ways,” said Mike Pruitt, assistant chief of Campus Security. “We know about the hackers that hacked Target and Home Depot and all that stuff, so that’s one way they can get information. We had had times where people have called and said ‘Hey, we need you to give us this information, so we can send you this money.’”
For something people have been warned about since high school, there aren’t many Belmont students who actively take steps to protect their identity.
“I don’t really think about it very much, honestly,” said Ashley Virgin, a Belmont senior.
Virgin isn’t the only one. Sophomore Brenna Wheeler also doesn’t give protecting her identity much thought. Wheeler thinks, like a lot of college-aged students, that her identity isn’t worth much to a thief – that one of the most valuable things to her name is her meal plan.
“As a college student, they can’t do a whole lot with my identity,” she said. “You could probably get some points or something.”
That’s not the case.
As long as someone has the information to do so, he or she can buy something using credit in the owner’s name. When the thief doesn’t pay that back, the owner’s credit score spirals downward.
“They can get credit that you might not have money for. They can go buy $100,000 car. Even if you don’t have the money for it, they have your information,” said Pruitt. “They establish credit and never pay for it, it ruins you, it doesn’t ruin them.
Belmont had a Shred It event during fall break to encourage students to shred any documents that had their personal information on it. However, there may be more that is needed to be done make sure the proper precautions are being taken.
To start with the basics, students shouldn’t share their personal information over the phone or Internet unless they know exactly who they are talking to and they are the ones who started the conversation, according to FDIC.org. Banks often have alerts that are sent out if something odd is going on with an account, but it should, for the most part, be used as a failsafe, said Pruitt.
“Definitely watch your bank account. Check your credit pretty regularly,” said Pruitt. “Be proactive not only looking for your future but keep an eye out for any kind of sign that pops up. If it’s online, make sure it’s a verified, secure site.”
Sites like Paypal make an account for users without actually revealing any specific information that could be used to steal someone’s identity.
“It’s kind of like a gateway to get to your accounts. It’s one more layer of blocking stuff,” Pruitt said.
If you do think your information has been stolen, there are immediate steps that should be taken. Notify your banks and get the credit card in question frozen until the situation is resolved. For other tips and information, go to identitytheft.gov.
While Belmont doesn’t currently have any programs or events that are scheduled to help inform students about the dangers of identity theft, that’s not to say there won’t be any in the future.
“It’s a lesson that can be learned,” said Pruitt. “It would be something we might need to look at trying to bolster a little bit stronger.”
Story by Rebecca Arnold and Taylor Berghoff.