Avoiding College Identity Theft

Dr. Gregory A. Buford was a junior at the University of California- San Diego when his wallet was stolen from his parked car in a school lot. The theft led to more than a loss of money -- the thief opted to steal his identity as well.

“It was a nightmare,” Buford tells MainStreet, adding it took 10 years to get the situation sorted out. He was ultimately aided by a local police officer who, through an intense letter-writing campaign, finally expedited the process. “I’m very, very tight with my information now,” Buford says.

While Buford’s story is unfortunate, it is also rather typical. College students are at high risk for identity theft, and one of the reasons for this is that they’re slower to discover the situation. A 2010 report released by Javelin Research & Strategy found it takes young adults age 18 to 24 nearly twice as many days to detect a fraud has occured, compared to older age groups. (Check out this MainStreet article for reasons why you need to identity fraud quickly.)

Steve Schwartz, Executive Vice President of Consumer Services for Intersections Inc, an Identity Theft service provider who co-sponsored Javelin’s research, agrees college students are generally less likely to identify potential risks.

“For many, it’s their first foray out of the cocoon and they just don’t know any better,” Schwartz says. He adds that many college students are highly dependent on social media networks, which increases the likelihood of identity theft exposure.   

However, college students aren’t at risk simply because they are naïve. They are also entering a new environment and a markedly different stage in life that, by nature, requires them to repeatedly give out personal information.