ID Theft: What College Students Need to Know

Last Updated Aug 5, 2011 11:42 AM EDT

We all know that college students are tech savvy. But it turns out that they are a bit naive about internet security and aren't doing enough to protect their personal information while they are surfing and banking online.

How big is the problem? More than 40% of 18 to 24-year-olds have never heard of malicious software, according to security software maker McAfee. And only one in five are using privacy controls with the popular social networking site Facebook. Couple this with the fact that the majority of young adults do their banking on their laptops or mobile phones, and you can just imagine how vulnerable this group is to identity theft.

Indeed, most instances of banking fraud are not due to the bank's technology being compromised, says Dave Marcus, Director of Security Research for McAfee Labs. Instead, it happens because people unwittingly give out their personal banking information to criminals via phishing scams and copycat sites, or their computers being infected with malware, he says.

So what should college students do to protect themselves? Here's some advice from McAfee:

1. Start Fresh
Make sure your laptop or PC is free of all threats by using a free diagnostic tool, such as McAfee Security Scan Plus. This will scan and detect malware, Trojans and any other potentially unwanted programs.

2. Use Security Software
Invest in comprehensive security software that will protect your computer from viruses, spyware, adware and identity theft. (McAfee's version is called McAfee Total Protection software.) Although there are free programs out there, McAfee warns that some of those competing products lack firewalls, website health checks and automatic updates.

3. Be Vigilant
After you've installed security software, run a daily security scan before turning your computer off for the night.

4. Watch out for Phishing
Be careful not to respond to fake bank emails. And never provide a bank with your full name, account number or password via email. Think of it this way, if it's your financial institution, it should already have this information.

5. Review Your Financial Statements
Going over credit card and other financial statements may not be high on a college student's list of priorities, but it's still important. Review them line by line and watch out for any unauthorized transactions. If something looks weird, call your bank right away.

McAfee also recommends using a long passphrase instead of a simple password for added internet security.

How do you protect yourself from identity theft online?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Computer Keyboard image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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