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College students at risk

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Regardless of how tech savvy incoming college students appear, they’re actually at higher risk for identity theft and other fraud, according to ID security experts.

The heightened risk for identity theft isn’t only in online scams that college students warn their parents to avoid, experts say. Instead, the danger can be in the mail.

New college students typically get a sharp increase in financial mail, including pre-approved credit card offers, student loan documents and other financial account statements often tossed aside. Unguarded in a dorm room or apartment, those documents are enough for an unscrupulous roommate to take to the bank, said Mike Prusinski, vice president of the identity security company Lifelock.

A roommate “knows just enough about you to be able to fill out these types of (credit account) forms and get the established credit in their name,” Prusinski said.

At least a third of all identity theft victims were targeted by someone they know, including roommates and friends, according to a Federal Trade Commission report.

Add a general willingness to sign up for company offers in exchange for free stuff, the habits of doing most financial transactions online and a tendency to share too much on social networking sites, and new college students become a ripe target. Students, and other adults between age 20 and 29, are about three times more likely to be a victim of identity theft, Prusinski said.

“Their data is everywhere,” he said. “Their kind of willingness to provide information leads to a lot of identity theft crimes.”

To minimize the risk of identity theft, college students should make an effort to keep track of their mail and shred all financial documents that could have identifying information. Students should also be wary of giving out their Social Security number for promotional offers or to on-campus organizations, Prusinski said.

At the University of New Mexico, students are taught how to prevent identity theft by protecting their mail and other personal information, said Ruth Stoddard, associate director of residential education. Mail is kept in a secure mail room before residents pick it up, but students are advised to keep a locked space in their dorm rooms to secure personal information and other valuables, she said.

“We encourage students to have … something they can kind of keep private things private from their roommates; where people can put spare checkbooks, some of their bank statements, those kind of things, so it’s not as accessible for friends or your roommate’s friends to come in and start browsing through your belongings,” Stoddard said.

UNM students living on campus have not reported too many incidents of roommates snooping through their financial records. Instead, most instances of fraud happen out in the community, she said.

Students are also taught about potential dangers of social networking and sharing too much personal information online. Many of the lessons to avoid identity theft come during “Safety Week” presentations that will be hosted on campus next week.

“A lot of students put a lot of information out there, birthdays, addresses and things that can be very attractive to someone who doesn’t have the most well-intentioned purposes,” Stoddard said.

Often, the biggest risk is that young college students are too trusting of the people around them, she said.

“They just want to think very kindly of everyone,” she said.