By John Buzzard
Strategic Technical Fraud Account Executive at CO-OP Financial Services
This fall, millions of students will take their first big step to adulthood by starting their freshman year of college. That means freedom, responsibility and a crash-course in living away from home. While there’s plenty to enjoy, there’s one area of caution that’s often overlooked by parents when preparing their children for this huge life transition: identity and credit fraud. For parents and students, here are seven tips for protecting critical private information.
#1 Safeguard the Essentials
When you’re just discovering college life for the first time, it’s easy to let your guard down. Dorms and student housing are places where friendships form over shared living spaces. That could also mean that essential identity protection can get overlooked. Credit cards and driver’s licenses may be left out or at someone’s house while private info such as passwords, PIN numbers or even social security numbers might even accidentally be discussed.
Students need to understand the absolute critical importance of protecting this information — one misstep and it may lead to years of headaches. An easy way to protect physical valuables is a small lockbox or mobile safe for anything not in use. As for critical knowledge, it’s quite simple: never disclose it under any circumstances.
#2 Don’t Share Devices
When you’re living in close quarters with your friends, it’s convenient to share laptops and tablets. This opens the door to two problems. First, if you are using someone else’s device, that means potentially leaving your private login information — anything from your Gmail account to your financial institution — on a device that you don’t own. If that device is ever stolen or compromised, your information is suddenly vulnerable. Second, if other people use your device, their browser history will be written on your device. Any sites that invite malware or viruses now become your problem, even if you simply were doing a friend a favor. The best advice is to simply not share devices, and if you must, apply discretion regarding who gets access and why.
#3 Follow Card Safety Guidelines
Credit and debit cards are often the targets of fraudsters, and that means smart practices need to be learned early on. “Skimmers” – small reading devices that can capture debt and credit card information – can be installed at ATM machines and grocery store payment modules. So, stay alert to signs of tampering with these commonplace devices – if it doesn’t look or feel right, don’t use it. Fraudsters also like to prey on people by asking for checking account details or debit cards in order to deposit their paycheck and withdraw funds in exchange for a cash bonus. These offers are always fraudulent and can lead to serious financial damage for the account holder.
#4 Use Payment App Security Tools
Payment apps are a convenient modern tool, putting all of your financial resources on your phone to better streamline your day-to-day life. Of course, that’s all good until you lose your phone or it gets hacked. In those instances, all of the data on your phone is vulnerable. To counter those issues, payment apps such as Venmo and Chump Change offer security options that establish a default password that triggers when devices are left unattended. In addition, a phone’s “find my device” feature can allow users to lock or wipe sensitive data from lost or stolen devices; all you have to do is look up how to use this on your particular phone model.
#5 Provide Travel Plans
Planning on traveling? It’s a good idea to let your financial institution know. Travel notifications are common today, and many financial institutions — in particular, credit unions — can offer assistance to members during periods of extended travel. This includes both pro-active preparation (travel dates, emergency contacts, spending restrictions, etc.) and emergency services (lost or stolen credit/debit cards). This establishes lines of communication should anything unusual occur. Many criminals orchestrate elaborate scams through social media these days, and with location-based posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, it’s become easier and easier to execute this type of fraudulent behavior. These scams purport that someone is in trouble — in jail, in the hospital, etc. — and needs money immediately; by establishing travel plans and a security protocol, everyone involved will know what’s a real emergency and what’s an attempted scam.
#6 Use Smart Card/Budget Controls
Some financial institutions have instituted new credit/debit card technology that sync up with mobile apps to take complete control of accounts. For example, CardNav by CO-OP allows credit union members to manage their debit and credit cards via the app: turn card payments on or off, receive timely account alerts, limit usage by location, or set a threshold amount to prevent potentially fraudulent transactions from draining a bank balance.
#7 When In Doubt, Use Common Sense
Finally, a bit of advice for all those new college students just stepping into adulthood. There are many people who will try to take your financial and identity details. Regardless of how they try, sometimes the best thing to do is to pause, take a breath and use your judgment and the resources around you. All of the above recommendations are excellent methods of protecting yourself, but common sense can often be the most successful first line of defense.
John Buzzard is Strategic Technical Fraud Account Executive at CO-OP Financial Services, a provider of financial technology to credit unions based in Rancho Cucamonga, California.