How students can prevent identity theft

Student employees answer calls at the BYU IT Center. College students and universities are common targets of identity theft. Students are also less likely to catch identity fraud than other demographic groups. (Savannah Hopkinson)

As people frantically shop and get everything done for the holidays, identity thieves can take advantage of this busy time of the year.

Keeping personal information secure is getting more difficult and college students are at a higher risk for identity theft than other age groups.

According to the 2015 Identity Fraud Study, students are the least likely to catch identity fraud by themselves. Students are also less worried about identity theft than other age groups and four times more likely to have their identity stolen by someone they know.

According to the report, 22 percent of students nationwide were notified they had a problem with identity theft when they were denied credit or contacted by a debt collector. This is three times more than average fraud victims.

Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus in the United States, announced in September that its systems had been compromised. This breach is one of several other recent security breaches, raising concerns about modern cybersecurity.

According to the Equifax website, the breach “potentially impacts personal information relating to 143 million U.S. consumers — primarily names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.”

On Oct. 2, Equifax announced it found the breach impacted an additional 2.5 million American consumers. The total number of those impacted — 145.5 million — is just a little under half of the people in the United States.

When a person’s credit is checked, information is sent to one of three credit bureaus, including Equifax, for a credit report. This happens when a person applies for a credit card, a student loan, or buys a car or other large purchase.

Identity theft is more likely with leaked personal information. Those who are impacted may not have a problem right now, but could realize they are victims of identity theft months or years in the future.

According to Samuel Moses, a security analyst with the BYU IT department, someone’s credit may have been checked without them knowing, so it is important for everyone to take precautions.

Students at the IT call center can answer questions about BYU accounts or other technical problems. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Hackers specifically target universities because they know how to get into their systems and university accounts include lots of personal information, including direct deposit accounts, Moses said.

This is one reason BYU requires the use of the Duo authentication system when signing into a BYU account. BYU has been requiring that students and faculty to sign up for Duo since mid-summer.

After a person enrolls in Duo, they use a second device to verify their identity when signing in on any device by getting a passcode, answering a call or giving authorization. This method creates a barrier so a hacker needs not only a password, but also access to the secondary authentication to enter the account, Moses said.

Moses suggested the following measures to help students keep their online accounts secure:

  • Create good passwords that are at least 12 characters long.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts. Password collection programs like LastPass or KeePass can help facilitate this.
  • Use two-factor authentication on everything you can, including Facebook, email and your BYU account through Duo.
  • Call BYU-IT at 801-422-4000 with any issues with passwords and keeping computer accounts secure.
A student employee answers questions about technical problems. Resources are available on campus to help with technology and identity theft. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Bill Welsh, collections manager for BYU Student Financial Services, said students need to increase their awareness of their financial transcript, or credit history.

Students should also check their credit score before making a large purchase or applying for a loan, according to Welsh.

“Identity theft is really a crime of opportunity … the identity thief will go after whoever makes it easy for them,” said Paul Conrad, manager of the BYU Financial Fitness Center. “If you leave your Social Security card out, or you leave your backpack unattended at the library, you make it easier.”

Conrad and Welsh gave the following tips for students to help keep their financial information secure and make sure their credit history is safe:

  • Go to the Federal Trade Commission Website and read their suggestions about the Equifax breach.
  • Check the Equifax website, which was created to help people check whether they were impacted. This is where you can sign up for a free year of credit monitoring.
  • You can obtain three free credit reports a year, one from each of the three credit companies, at This can help you stay aware of your credit and make sure no one has stolen your identity.
  • Check to see if your bank offers free credit scores, or pay for a report from FICO.
  • Shred your papers; dumpster diving is still a method for identity theft. The BYU Financial Fitness Center in C-148 ASB has a shredder available for student use.
  • Use the FERPA guest access to your BYU account if parents or others need to access your account, instead of giving them your password.
  • File your taxes early to make sure no one has the opportunity to file in your name.

If a student thinks their credit may have been compromised, the student can place a 90-day hold on their credit. They should also notify the University Police if they think they may have a problem with identity theft.

There is also an option to freeze credit. A credit freeze prevents the opening of an account or checking credit without the owner unfreezing it, and is probably the most sure way of preventing identity theft.  This costs $10 for each of the three credit companies every time the freeze is applied or removed.

The BYU Financial Fitness Center helps students set financial goals and provides advice. Students can take a quiz on the center’s website to see what financial practices they can improve. The website also has tips for budgeting and using money wisely.

“My hope is that students would use (the Equifax breach) as an opportunity to educate themselves, take prudent steps and learn how to be vigilant,” Conrad said.

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