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The Facts of (College) Life

September 25, 2016

If your child is starting college, it’s time to talk to them about the facts of life—that there are people out there who want to steal their identity. And now that they’re leaving home, it’s up to them to protect themselves. This talk can be as important to your child’s future as the one about the birds and the bees. A 2015 study found that students are the least concerned about fraud, yet they are the most severely impacted by it: it can affect their ability to get apartments, homes, loans, jobs, and more.

The Facts of (College) Life

Your student needs to learn the same good habits that you practice to protect your own identity, but those habits can be more challenging in a college environment. Unlike your home, dorm rooms or shared apartments are not private living spaces. Roommates and their friends come and go, and your child may invite over other students that they don’t know well. So here are some ways to help your student keep their identity safe:

  • Explain to them what information should be kept private: driver’s license, Social Security card and number, birth certificate, passport, checkbooks, bank and credit card statements, medical cards, and anything else that’s personal. Decide with them what they really need to take along to college. For example, if they don’t have overseas travel planned or plan to apply for a job, leave the Social Security card and passport at home.
  • Buy them a lock box for their room, and tell them to keep important documents in there when they’re not using them. That way they’re not lying around if a roommate brings home someone who turns out to be dishonest or if someone else comes into the room looking for things to steal.
  • Tell them not to put any paper with personal information in recycling bins. Buy them a small shredder to use for financial statements and other personal documents.
  • With any luck, they already know this, but tell them not to leave personal documents or personal electronics in a car, even if the car is locked.

Another big identity risk is that many colleges still use students’ Social Security numbers as their student ID number, which means those numbers may be printed on everything from student ID cards to grade reports. Publicly funded schools and those that receive federal funding must comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and FERPA requires written consent to publish personally identifiable information, including Social Security numbers. Not all colleges comply with this, so it’s a good idea to talk to the school and ask how they are protecting your child’s personal information.

Physical security is just one aspect of keeping your student safe, and we’ll talk about others in other articles. But the steps listed here are a great foundation for identity safety as they start out on the big adventure of adult life.