The annual college shopping trip is almost upon us. And while it's fun to stock up on posters, shower caddies and desk lamps, experts say you also should consider how you'll keep yourself, and your possessions, safe on campus.
Common sense is the best defense, says Chris McGoey, who runs a security business in Los Angeles and consults on campus safety. "It's all about access. In most incidents, victims were careless, unaware and too trusting," he says.
In dorm suites and hallways, there may be visitors you don't know. Many freshmen like to adopt an "open-door" policy when they get moved into dorms. But that's an invitation to would-be thieves.
"If you have a computer, laptop or other electronic equipment, tether it to something solid using a security cable," advise the "college life" editors at the school-advice site SparkNotes.com.
There are also motion-sensor locks for laptops. And Orbicule's Undercover is a monitoring device for your Mac, iPhone or iPad; for a student price of $39, the downloadable software will snap a photo of the person who took your Mac and track the IP address anywhere in the world — information that can be given to police. In the meantime, lockout features prevent the thief from accessing anything on the computer.
As for smaller valuables, some students suggest keeping them in a trunk — the kind you take to summer camp — with a combination lock. They make handy nightstands.
Jeff Gawronski of DormCo.com, an online retailer that sells dorm security items, says his biggest seller is a room safe. Safes these days have been scaled down to look less intimidating in a dorm room.
Diversion safes are containers that look like everyday items — cleanser cans, for example. The idea's clever, so long as nobody accidentally throws the safe out.
If your roommate has lost a key, don't leave the door unlocked. Instead offer to help find the resident assistant to get a new lock and keys.
In general, familiarize yourself with the school's security systems and dorm environment. Locate fire extinguishers, and keep a small one on hand if you have appliances.
DormCo.com stocks a Kevlar fire blanket to smother flames.
Female students may feel safer at night with a small pepper spray canister, if the school allows it. CollegeStudentSafety.com even sells jogging hand weights with a small vial hidden in the grip. A lighted keychain with an alarm may offer peace of mind.