As students return to college campuses, they must deal with many tasks, such as managing their time and classes.
There's one other thing they should also put at the top of their lists: protecting their identities.
"They do tend to be a little bit more at risk than other people," said Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer at ID Analytics, which provides identity-protection services for individuals and businesses. "They are emerging credit-active people, so they tend to be setting up new financial accounts — checking, savings accounts — so there's kind of a flurry of activity that gets their personal information out there."
College students also live in close quarters with others, "so they frequently have roommates, and there is personal information there that is exposed," he said.
Other factors contribute to a higher risk for identity fraud for people ages 18 to 24, said Jim Van Dyke, president of Javelin Strategy & Research, which studies security, risk and fraud for the financial services industry.
Van Dyke cited information from Javelin's 2012 identity fraud report, which was based on a survey of 5,022 U.S. adults between Oct. 6 and 20. The survey's margin of error is plus or minus 1.7 percentage points.
The contributing factors Javelin found include:
More use of social media: "Users who engage in certain social networking activities experience a significantly higher incidence of fraud than the general public," he said. For example, updating your Facebook profile to gush about your vacation can be an open invitation to crooks.
Engaging in riskier electronic behavior: Thirty-nine percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have accessed public Wi-Fi in the past 30 days compared with 26 percent of all consumers, Van Dyke said. The use of public Wi-Fi increases the risk of "viruses, man-in-the-middle attacks, and other security threats," he said.
High use of smartphones: "In 2011, the fraud incidence rate among smartphone owners was 6.6 percent, 35 percent higher than the all-consumer average of 4.9 percent," Van Dyke said.
Frequent use of debit cards: "Eighteen- to 24-year-olds are more likely to be victims of debit card fraud," Van Dyke said. Of all existing card victims in this age group, 71 percent had their debit cards stolen, compared with 41 percent of all fraud victims.
Similarly, 43 percent of data-breach victims in this age range had their debit card number stolen, compared with 22 percent of all fraud victims.
"This group is twice as likely to report that a data breach occurred with their debit card number, likely because they are more likely to have a debit card account and simply use debit more frequently," Van Dyke said. "Breaches can occur at merchants and processors, so the more you transact, the more likely you are to have a record that was breached."
Eighteen- to 24-year-olds are also more likely to have their debit card PINs stolen, Van Dyke said.
To protect their identities, students should:
• Monitor financial statements closely for unusual activity.
• Shred anything with personal information.
• Not keep sensitive information such as Social Security cards and passports in dorm rooms.
• Change financial statements from paper to electronic, or have them sent to your home address or a post office box.
• Watch debit cards closely. Keep them with you or lock them up.
• Be wary of using public Wi-Fi connections and make sure you log out when using a public computer.
• Be careful of the information you share on social media sites.
• Keep personal computers in a safe place and be sure you have antivirus protection. Don't store any valuable information on your hard drive or in your emails.
• Pay close attention to whom you give your information to and what websites you visit.
• Password-protect your smartphone.