That also means they are suddenly much more vulnerable to identity theft.
Recently, one Colorado State University grad found out how quickly her identifying information could be taken from her. Melissa Bingham received a “spoof” call (where a caller misrepresents him or herself) claiming to be from the Colorado Department of Education.
Bingham was told she was under a federal investigation and that she could lose her recently acquired degree if she didn’t cooperate with the caller and hand over her personal information. The caller knew her full name, what kind of degree she’d received, and her date of graduation.
Bingham isn’t alone.
Recent college grads are appealing targets for identity thieves because graduates have vital information worth stealing and new forms of income, yet they’re still learning how the credit monitoring process works.
“They’re a particularly attractive target because they still have all the vulnerabilities young people have, but they have something worth stealing as well—bank accounts and credit cards,” says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). “They’ve had to provide this Social Security number (SSN), and they may not realize yet that it’s not something you want to provide all the time.”
Know the value of your personal information
Velasquez says the most important thing recent graduates need to remember is that personally identifiable information—including sign-in details and passwords for computers or email accounts—is extremely valuable.
“They guard their cell phones, their jewelry, their cash, but what people need to remember is that their data, what makes their identity, is just as valuable, and they need to treat it like that,” Velasquez says.
When recent college grads are most susceptible to identity theft
For college graduates, job applications are a particularly easy avenue for identity theft. Scammers know that many new grads haven’t gone through a full job application process yet, and they’ll use that to their advantage, Velasquez says. For example, fraudsters may ask for an application fee or for an applicant’s SSN.
“[For graduates], learning what legitimate offers are and when to give their information is the first step,” Velasquez says.
If recent graduates are simply applying for a job, they don’t have to provide their SSN or a copy of a driver’s license or passport. Resumes shouldn’t include such unnecessary personal information either. In addition, if a job offer requires some form of payment up front, it’s probably not legitimate.
Applying for loans, consolidating student loans, and opening first credit cards are also common activities that can become sources of identity theft for recent graduates, Velasquez says. She suggests that graduates make sure they’re doing business with a reputable person, company, or financial institution. In these cases, graduates will likely be required to give out personal information for legitimate reasons, so checking out the source of the business is one of the few ways to safeguard against theft of that information.
How graduates can better protect their personal information
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers several ways consumers can protect their information. They include the following:
• Monitor financial accounts, like bank and credit card accounts, for fraudulent or suspicious activities.
• Check their credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs). You can receive one free copy of your credit report from each of the CRAs through the website AnnualCreditReport.com.
• Keep important information locked away.
• Have important documents mailed to a secure place (in the case of a recent college graduate, this may include a parent’s house or a PO box).
• Securely store technology and avoid unprotected WiFi and Bluetooth networks.
• Be careful when sharing information on social media.
Megan Craig is a Chicago-based journalist and communications professional who writes mostly about personal finance and consumer issues. She is a former reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @megcraig1.
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