Attending college is one of the biggest investments you can make in your lifetime, but like any big investment, it takes quite a bit of money upfront. While scholarships and grants can help to cover the cost, students oftentimes require student loans to pay tuition bills. However, before you begin your student loan applications, you should proceed with caution.
Student loan applications require a number of sensitive answers, like your address, social security number, birth date, passwords, etc. With that in mind, you need to be on your guard when applying in order to prevent identity theft.
Identity theft happens when your personal information is taken over by thieves in order to open new accounts, file fake tax returns, rent or buy properties or other criminal activities. As a student, having your identity stolen can have long-term repercussions. For instance, it can hinder you from getting a job
after graduation or prevent you from signing a lease on an apartment. Essentially, your fresh start in the real world after college could be less like a dream and more like a nightmare.
College campuses and towns aren’t exempt from identity theft. Students need to be just as careful in their college library as they need to be in a crowded coffee shop. Student identity theft can occur when you use unsecure public Wi-Fi networks, have an identify thief looking over your shoulder or leave personal documents out in your dorm room or in a public space.
How to Identify Scams
Besides taking precautionary measures to protect against identity theft, you can learn the signs to identify scams and intrusive online actions as well as how to refrain from risky behavior. These days, most identity theft occurs online, which would likely be the place you’d apply for a student loan. As you navigate the web, beware of clicking on links that offer to install malware on your computer or utilizing websites that advertise deals that seem too good to be true. When you check your email, never click on links or attachments from users you don’t know or in emails that look suspicious.
Also, avoid using public Wi-Fi when applying for student loans
, unless you are logged into a virtual private network (VPN). Hackers can steal your financial information just by sitting near you. They can also get their hands on your personal information just by looking over your shoulder.
How to Recover from Scams and Identity Theft
If you have fallen victim to identity theft, there are steps you can take to amend your credit score and financial history. First, contact your financial institutions to let them know you have been a victim of identity fraud and ask that accounts opened in your name be closed. Next, obtain a credit report to get a big picture of the damage done. Also, contact one of three credit reporting agencies to run an initial report on your financial activity for the next 90 days, which can be extended to up to seven years. Finally, file a police report and notify the Federal Trade Commission. Taking these steps will provide evidence that you’ve been a victim of identity theft and are working to make it right.
How to Stay Informed
The best way to protect yourself is to stay informed and aware of the possibility of identity theft. Periodically check your credit score for fraudulent activity, like accounts or collection notices that you don’t recognize. Monitor all of your accounts frequently and act quickly by contacting the right parties when you see activity that is not made by you. When it comes time to apply for financial aid, ask your school’s financial aid
office for their preferred lender list, which are banks and lenders that are trusted by the university. Keep everything secure, from your account documents to your Internet connection. By playing it safe, you’ll be playing it smart – and you won’t have to worry about becoming a victim of identity theft.