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Trying to "Find Yourself" at College? Be Sure to Avoid an "Identity Crisis"

While many college students are in the process of discovering who they want to be, the last thing they need is to have someone else assume their identity and commit fraud.

Clever con artists use personal information to make unauthorized charges, withdraw money from bank accounts, or even assume the student's identity to establish credit or commit crimes in the student's name. Often the victim doesn't discover the identity theft until contacted by a debt collector or a police officer!

You can foil identity thieves and prevent that "identity crisis" with the following steps:

  • Students living in dorms or other shared living areas need to take special care to protect their personal and credit information.
  • Avoid carrying more than one or two credit cards.
  • Keep Social Security cards, birth certificates, credit account statements and other vital records and personal documents in a safe place.
  • Don't leave bill payments in an unlocked mailbox for pick-up.
  • Shred or tear up documents with personal information before throwing them away.
  • You can stop pre-approved credit solicitations from coming by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688).

Don't give out your personal information on the phone – unless you made the call or know the caller. Even if you trust the caller, ask how the information will be used. The same goes for mail.

Never respond to an unsolicited e-mail that asks for your Social Security number, bank account number, PIN, credit card number, other financial account number, driver's license number or any other personal or financial information:

  • Even if it looks like it's from your bank or another legitimate company, don't respond.
  • Instead, look up the company in a telephone directory to see if it has a working phone number and address. Call and ask about the e-mail.
  • Be cautious about giving out personal information on the Internet. Read the privacy policy of Web sites you visit, and look for opportunities to "opt out" of receiving marketing e-mail, mail or phone calls from site owners. Remember that e-mail is like a postcard: don't send personal information unless you use encryption software.

Protect your bank account, your e-mail account and other personal information with secure passwords. Don't use your mother's maiden name or your Social Security number. Use nonsensical combinations of letters, numbers and symbols. Keep a log of your passwords in a secure location – not on a post-it note stuck on your computer!

Students should also be wary about releasing their Social Security numbers when not required by law. Ask if you can show other identification or if another customer number can be assigned to you. In California, in most cases involving new customers, businesses cannot:

  • Post or publicly display Social Security number;
  • Print the numbers on identification cards or badges;
  • Require people to transmit the numbers over the Internet unless the connection is secure or encrypted;
  • Require people to log onto a World Wide Web site using a Social Security number without a password; or
  • Print the numbers on materials mailed to customers unless required by law or the document is a form or application.

If you believe you've become a victim of identity theft, contact the three major credit bureaus, notify the police, and call creditors where fraudulent accounts were opened and request information on the accounts.

For more tips on how to respond to identity theft, and how to prevent identity theft and protect your privacy, contact the Office of Privacy Protection toll free at (866) 785-9663 or online at

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