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Why College Freshmen Are Chum for the Cyber SharksColumnIdentity Theft


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cyber sharksIdentity theft and countless other scams are often among the first life lessons learned by newly minted college students. As summer draws to a close, members of the Class of 2020 face an unimaginable number of potential pitfalls. Be prepared to meet the specific challenges ahead.

Most incoming college students will at some point find themselves feeling overwhelmed by their newfound freedom. With the exception of sleep away camp, it will be longest stretch of time many kids have been away from home; and for the majority, it will be the first time they are in charge of getting three square meals a day while staying on top of a busy schedule with a host of deadlines, something that can get away from them in the blink of an eye.

On top of all that demanding stuff, it is also the first time many will have to deal with the nitty-gritty of personal finance, health care and all the other facts of life that involve the trafficking of personal identifying information. And these deliverables, if they aren’t carefully tended to, can create major havoc.

This is where it becomes important to make sure that your children are aware of the dangers they will confront on a daily basis.

Bottom line: There they are, completely independent, free to study or not, stay out all night at the coolest venues (or not), and free to give their personal information to the first identity thief that comes along asking for it — or not. So, how do you keep them safe? A good place to start is with an actual or virtual sit-down, where you have a serious conversation about the dangers they face.

Here are a few not-fun-at-all hot spots that come to mind.

1. Credit Cards: Real & Make-Believe

While not at the fever pitch of the years preceding the enactment of the CARD Act, when banks littered college campuses with sign-up tables offering every inducement imaginable from free pizza to free T-shirts to extra points toward plane tickets and hotels for Spring Break, your kids are going to be offered credit cards. Managed correctly, a credit card can help them build the kind of low-risk profile that inspires mortgage and auto lenders to say yes to young people looking to finance their purchase of a home or a car. Credit is their first portfolio. (They can monitor their progress towards building good credit by viewing two of their credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.)

But credit can also be bad. There are scams out there that look like credit card offers but are actually nothing more than fraudsters collecting personally identifying information to be used to open accounts in your child’s name.

The best way to avoid this is to counsel your child to get a credit card on a reputable site or call the number on the back of one of your credit cards. There will be representatives who can steer them to the credit product that is right for them. (Keep in mind, they may need you to be involved in the process anyway, since the CARD Act prohibits banks for lending to anyone under 21 unless they can demonstrate an ability to repay or have a willing co-signer.)

2. Fake Textbook Sites

Textbooks can be very expensive. If an online book vendor offers deals that look too good to be true, it could well be a scam. Counsel them to never trust, always verify and only use sites that are recommended by people they know or that have been thoroughly reviewed.

3. Scammy Scholarships

There is no such thing as a scholarship that requires an application fee. Tell your kids to discuss all matters regarding scholarships and financial aid with you.

4. Phish Ahoy!

Often deals or study aids come in the form of a link texted, emailed or floated as a post on social media. The basic rule here should be, When in doubt, check it out. Google is your child’s friend, as is a moment’s hesitation to decide whether this or that offer makes sense. Once again, if it’s too good to be true, and they take the bait, the joke could be on them.

5. Everything New

If it is new to you, you might just hesitate and wonder what’s the catch. For your kids — digital natives that they are — nothing new is suspect. It’s expected. Spotting frauds whether they are services, new ways to move money around or apply for jobs, credit or scholarships will all seem like the same old thing to them. Teach them to make phone calls and do background checks on new things before using them, because there are myriad “killer apps” out there.

There is no way to fully prepare young people for the threat culture they are about to enter, but with some wise counsel they can be pointed in the right direction, which is a good place to start. Hopefully they’ll listen.