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Keeping Your Identity Safe on Campus

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Going to university whether you’re in your late teens, twenties or in your forties is a big step for many people, and it is rife with all sorts of worries. How do I hold down a job while keeping up my grades? How do I juggle family and my studies? How do I pay for those exorbitantly priced text books? How do I apply for financial aid? How the heck do I pass that Physics class? How do I get invited to all the cool parties? The last thing you need is another worry on top of all that.

But the safety of your identity is an absolute must in terms of things to be concerned about. Many people view university campuses as these cushioned safe environments where nothing bad can happen, but anecdotal evidence from peers of all ages will tell you that a university campus requires just as much caution and vigilance as the mean city streets. This is not to scare you, but to wake you up to the reality of identity theft, and the fact that it really can happen anywhere.

Just google “identity theft university”, and you will see a plethora of university websites urging students to be cautious about their personal information, like Social Security Numbers, driver’s licenses, passports, credit and debit cards, passwords and PINs. But there can never be enough advice. According to the Identity Theft Assistance Center (http://www.identitytheftassistance.org), incidents of identity theft increased by 13% in 2011. That is a very high number and should serve as a warning to people of all ages. But young people put themselves at an even higher risk for identity theft as a result of their activity in social media communities and their wide use of smartphones.

In that vein, we have 5 easy tips to follow to ensure the safety of your identity:

  1. Be careful about how you use Facebook. Many people publicly post their full birthdays, phone numbers, email addresses, and other personal information (pets’ names, important dates, parents’ names, etc…), and this information can be used in one way or another against you. Thieves can actually guess passwords to online bank accounts and email accounts with some of this information. Some can even discern where you live if you’re careless about what you post in your social profiles. So, put those privacy settings to good use and use your common sense.
  2. Don’t share your passwords or PINs with anyone. Seriously – keep this information to yourself. All it can take is one careless mistake, and your debit card PIN which you entrusted to a friend could become public knowledge. For obvious reasons, this puts your finances and your identity at risk. And if the bank discovers that a breach occurred because you shared your PIN against their advice, the loss will be your responsibility.
  3. Create strong passwords. Believe it or not, many people still use “password1234” as a password, and wonder how their email account got hacked. Try to avoid using real words you can find in the dictionary; names of friends, family or pets; and important dates. It’s best to use a random selection of characters that include upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and other marks (e.g. ampersands, dollar signs, exclamation marks, etc…). Make sure that the password is meaningful to you and easy to remember, but hard for anyone else to guess. And don’t write it down – memorize it.
  4. Shred your personal documents before trashing or recycling them. Many identity thieves are old-fashioned, and dumpster dive to find their next unsuspecting victims. For this reason, invest in a paper shredder and destroy your personal documents (bank statements, credit card statements, bills, government-issued documents, etc…) before you send them to the garbage or recycling bin.
  5. Get a good anti-virus and firewall program for your computer AND your smartphone. Luckily there are many free options out there, like AVG (http://www.avg.com/ca-en/homepage) , to safeguard your computer and smartphone against potential identity thieves. Using an anti-virus/firewall program will keep fraudsters and thieves away from all the personal information contained on your computer and smartphone.

Now that you know what you need to do to protect yourself against identity thieves, be a good student and put all of this knowledge to use. If you have a story about your own experiences with identity theft or have some tips of your own, share them on Payza’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/payzaglobal. But please, keep any personally-identifying information to yourself and use your Facebook privacy settings wisely!
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