Is Your College Careful With Your Personal Data? How to Tell
College students, as a group, are much more vulnerable to identity theft than the general population. Part of the reason for this is that traditional college students, often on their own for the first time, have less experience managing their personal information and tend to make themselves more vulnerable as a result. But it’s not all the college student’s fault.
The school can also be to blame—and students at some schools are vulnerable to identity theft regardless of their age or experience level. That’s because some colleges are less careful than others about safeguarding the personal data they collect from students. Here are a few ways to tell if your school is lax in assuring the privacy of your personal information.
They use your social security number as your ID
Believe it or not, this is an accepted practice at some colleges. If your college puts your social security number on your student card, your class registration papers, publicly posted grades, or other places where others can get easy access, it isn’t careful with your data. If your school does this, request a different assigned number.
Choosing student loan options is never easy. Avoid taking out a private student loan if you can pay for your college tuition by any other means.
At some schools, mailboxes don’t have particularly secure locking mechanisms—and it might be possible to break in without a key. Still, most students have sensitive documents sent to their school address—including legal and bank documents. If it’s easy to pick the lock on your school mailbox, don’t have sensitive mail sent there—use your parents’ address instead, or get a PO box at the local post office.
Campus mailboxes are unsecured
Outgoing post office mail is dropped into a highly secure mailbox—just try breaking into one of those things. At some colleges, however, outgoing mail is just dropped into an open box or container. This makes it easier for identity thieves to steal important information you’re sending out. If your college doesn’t offer a secure way to send mail, use a post office mailbox off campus.
They conduct studies using personal information
This may be difficult to find out—or it could be all over the news, as it was with Harvard’s recent Facebook faux pas. In 2006, Harvard researchers started collecting a vast amount of social science data over Facebook and Twitter, downloading over 1,700 profiles from Harvard’s class of 2009 and publicly releasing the data two years later, with the intention of sharing it with researchers at other schools.
The problem? None of the students whose profiles were collected in the study had given their permission—or were even informed that they had been downloaded. Chances are that if your school conducts studies that draw on student information collected without knowledge or permission, it is not particularly careful about student data in other areas in general.
Protecting your data in college isn’t easy. Some of it is common sense—shred your documents, don’t leave sensitive information out in your dorm room, and don’t use public computers to pay bills or access your bank account. But some of it involves the way your school treats your data. Keep an eye out for egregious practices—and don’t hesitate to speak up if you find them. If colleges know their students are aware of the way they use data and are vigilant about their privacy, they will be less likely to exploit student data or make it vulnerable.
Distance-Education.org: Identity Theft: Why College Students are Prime Targets
Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs: Consumer Alert: Identity Theft and College Students
The Chronicle of Higher Education: Harvard’s Privacy Meltdown
Sileo.com: College-Bound Students are Vulnerable as Identity Theft Targets
NAIC Consumer Alerts: Protecting Your Student’s Future: What College Students Need to Know About Identity Theft
More About College Basics
- How to Stand Out in Your Online Class Discussions
- Payday Loans Go Online. Should You Check It Out? (Spoiler: No.)
- FICO's New Credit Score 9: How They Could Affect College Students
- The Corinthian College Debacle: What It Means for its Students
- How to Set Your Own Deadlines: Tips for Success
- The Affordable Care Act Deadline Passed. What Now?
- How to Ask for More Money From Your Student Aid Office: Without Seeming Entitled
- Six Homework Hacks That Make Studying Online Easier