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Understand how to protect yourself from identity theft

Identity theft is one of America's fastest-growing crimes. Students are just as vulnerable to being victimized as anyone else.

Protecting yourself against identity theft now is easier than having to clear your name and credit rating later—after identity theft occurs. Getting victimized can cost you a lot of time, money and stress. Here are 10 things you can do to help protect yourself from becoming one of the millions of victims of identity theft.

  • Show Guard your Social Security number, PINs, passwords and account numbers

    Are you walking around with your Social Security card in your wallet? Do you have all your passwords and account numbers written out and kept in your wallet or purse? If you do, you could be making it very easy for a thief to open accounts in your name. Only give out your Social Security number when it's absolutely necessary—generally for tax purposes or when applying for credit (for job applications, driver’s license and school identification, your Social Security number is not usually required). When asked for your Social Security number for things like a driver’s licenses or student ID, ask if it's possible to not have it printed on these items. If it's not possible, find out how your information will be used—and what measures will be taken to protect it.

  • Show Monitor bank and credit card statements

    Review your bank and credit card statements regularly and check for any suspicious activity such as withdrawals or purchases you didn’t make. If you don’t receive paper statements, make sure you check your statements online at least once per month. The more frequently you are checking your accounts, the quicker you would identify any theft and minimize the possible damage.

  • Show Shred documents and opt out

    You should shred any documents that have personally identifying information on them before disposing of them. For example, past account statements and any pre-approved credit card offers that don’t interest you. You might also consider calling 1.888.5-OPTOUT (1.888.567.8688) or visiting www.optoutprescreen.com to be removed from any future mailing lists for those types of offers.

  • Show Make sure websites are secure

    Whether you’re shopping, banking or paying bills, you need to make sure that the information you share online is secure and won’t be shared with anyone else. Anytime you are about to share personal information, such as your Social Security number, credit card information or bank account number, make sure the site is secure by looking for 2 things: (1) a padlock icon in your browser and (2) the "s" on the end of http: in the URL line of your browser (the URL should begin with "https:"). If you don’t see either of these, find someplace else online to shop.

  • Show Be cautious when sharing computers

    If you share a computer with a roommate or use a computer at a library or computer lab, make sure you clear all cookies when you are finished using the computer. Always make sure you log out and delete your log in information from the computer’s memory.

  • Show Guard your laptop, cell phone, PDA and other devices against theft

    Laptops, cell phones and PDAs are ideal targets for thieves, so make sure you keep close watch on these items and use strong passwords with a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols to protect your data.

  • Show Keep copies of cards and documents

    It’s a good idea to keep a copy of all your identification, credit cards and other important documents in a secure place in case they are stolen. This is especially helpful if one or more of your credit cards goes missing because having the phone numbers and account numbers will make it much easier for you to be able to call the credit card companies and cancel your cards.

  • Show Treat mail with care

    Never use an unsecured mailbox to deposit any outgoing mail containing personally identifying information. Always use a post office collection box or bring your mail to the post office. Make sure you collect your mail every day. To minimize the potential for mail-related identity theft issues, contact your bank, credit card provider and other companies that send you bills and switch to paperless billing. If you're planning to be away from home and have no one who can pick up your mail for you, contact your local post office and ask them to hold your mail until you can pick it up or can begin receiving it again.

  • Show Avoid phishing scams

    Never give out personally identifying information on the phone, through the mail or over the internet unless you are absolutely sure you know who you're dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, internet service providers or government agencies to trick you into revealing your Social Security number, account numbers and other identifying information.

  • Show Be cautious when using an ATM

    If you’re using a walk-up ATM, a pay-by-card gas pump, a grocery store card swipe machine or any other public debit or credit machine, keep an eye on the people around you. "Shoulder surfing," or watching you as you enter your PIN, is one way identity thieves steal account information. Take any receipts with you when you are finished with your transaction. Be alert to any unusual equipment on the ATM; if you see something unusual, it could be a device designed to capture the information you're entering into the machine. It's a good idea to cover the keyboard while entering your PIN so that it cannot be recorded by a hidden camera or seen by someone nearby.

Personally identifying information

Information that can be identified with a particular consumer or can be combined with other information in the possession of the party in order to be identified with a particular consumer.

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Credit rating

A numeric expression of creditworthiness based upon an individual's present financial condition and past credit history.

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What if your identity is stolen?

  • If you've been the victim of identity theft, you need to act quickly. If you're a Bank of America customer, we'll cancel your card and issue a replacement immediately. You won’t be liable for any fraudulent activity.
  • More about identity theft ››

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