BBB teaches best back-to-school lesson: How students can avoid identity theft

College students have enough to worry about without falling prey to scammers looking to steal their identities and good credit.

"Identity thieves don't care if you're a struggling student and don't have a penny to your name; sometimes all they want is to exploit your clean credit record," says Angie Barnett, president and CEO of the Greater Maryland Better Business Bureau. "Young adults that establish good habits for monitoring and detecting fraud are laying a path that will help create a healthy financial road for the rest of their lives."

A report on fraud showed that college students are the slowest to catch identity theft.

The National Consumers League and the Better Business Bureau have each put together some tips to keep your identity safe and get through the semester.

The National Consumers League recommends checking your social network privacy settings to block scammers from getting too much information and never leave personal information out. College students are tempting targets for identity thieves because while they may not have much money, their credit reports are often clean.

Create a budget of all monthly expenses and stick to it -- that way a night out with friends won't break the bank.

The league also says to stay away from ads promising "guaranteed scholarships" or an "inside track" to college funding because those are usually scams. A service that requires a credit or debit card number to apply also should send up a red flag.

The BBB suggests that:

  • College mailboxes aren't the most secure places, even in a dorm or apartment. If you have any sensitive mail like credit card statements, have it sent to a permanent address -- your parents' house -- or a post office box.
  • Important documents like your Social Security card, passport, bank or credit cards should be kept in a locked filing cabinet. Be sure to shred any paper documents with personal information -- including credit card offers in the junk mail -- instead of tossing them in the trash.
  • Never lend your credit or debit card to anyone, even your friends.
  • Don't agree to co-sign for a loan or financing for items such as a TV.
  • Always check your credit or debit statements for any purchases or cash withdrawals you don't recognize. Check your credit report once a year for any mistakes.
  • Make sure your computer has up-to-date antivirus and spyware software. Keep it current on operating system patches or updates too.
  • Check companies out before buying from their web sites. Even if the sites have the "safe" and "trust" seals on them, click on the seals to make sure they are legitimate.
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