Avoiding Identity Theft: Student Loans EditionNovember 11, 2019
Last Updated on December 4, 2020
Identity theft seems like something that will never happen to you, that is, until it does. And when it hits, it can cause a lot of trouble—impacting your bank accounts, credit report, taking out loans and requiring a lot of time and effort to correct. When a thief has access to your personal information, there’s no limit to the havoc they can wreak. While charges on credit cards and unauthorized bank account withdrawals are more commonly associated with identity theft, student loan fraud can happen as well.
Most people know to take necessary precautions, like shredding important documents and having facial ID or passcode set on their phone, but it seems like these steps are never enough. Identity thieves can get to your information through data breaches, stolen mail, stolen wallets, email scams, and even though your internet connection. Without altogether avoiding technology or living in a vault, how cautious do you need to be? Very cautious, as it turns out.
Let’s look at how to avoid identity theft, then what to do if the theft involves unauthorized student loans.
Avoiding Student Loan Identity Theft
Use Safe Internet Connections
When you Cyber Monday shop in a cafe or buy Wi-Fi at 30,000 feet, you put yourself at risk for identity theft. Public Wi-Fi connections are full of fellow internet surfers, and they don’t all have good intentions. Though convenient, public Wi-Fi may not have the proper security and encryption measures in place. When a fraudster gains access to your personal information via public Wi-Fi, it’s known as a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack. Once they’ve gained access, thieves can spy on your internet behavior and steal usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, etc.
Needless to say, it’s best to avoid anything on a public network that requires you to log into accounts or make purchases. This includes applying for colleges and student loans. Be sure you’re always working from a safe, trusted internet connection and make sure your device or computer has the latest software installed.
Don’t Keep Your Social Security Card in Your Wallet
At some point, you’ll likely be asked to share your Social Security number at the doctor’s office, your bank, the Department of Motor Vehicles, or even your job. And because of that, it’s tempting to keep your Social Security card in your purse or wallet for easy access, but doing so can open the door to identity theft.
When your SSN lives next to your credit cards and driver’s license, you give thieves everything they need to steal your identity. Instead, keep your Social Security card with other important documents in a personal safe at your house or in a rented safe deposit box at a bank or credit union. Read more about when you should and shouldn’t give out your Social Security number.
Be Weary About Who You Share Information With
When applying for student loans, work directly through fafsa.gov for federal loans or through reputable financial institutions for private loans. How can you tell if a site is reputable? You should be able to easily find contact information on their website and speak to a real person when you call. Reputable websites also work through encrypted connections, helping reduce the risk of identity theft by sending your data across the internet with additional layers of protection. You can tell if a website is encrypted by its web address: “HTTP” sites are not encrypted while “HTTPS” sites are.
If you do find that your identity has been used to take out unauthorized student loans, the below tips can help you get back on track.
Recovering from Student Loan Identity Theft
If you received a call or letter from a loan servicer warning that your account is past due, despite not having a student loan with that institution, you might be the victim of identity theft. Student loan identity theft might also be discovered during a routine credit check or by a credit monitoring service. Regardless of how you find out, once you do, here’s who to contact:
- Contact the lenders that opened the accounts. Their fraud departments can freeze the accounts to prevent any further damage.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to complete an Identity Theft Report. This report will provide a detailed recovery plan and layout the appropriate steps. It will also pre-fill forms and letters you’ll need, saving you precious time.
- Contact the police and file a police report. A police report may be needed to help clear things up with lenders, credit agencies or the Department of Education.
- Contact the school where the fraudulent account was opened, notify them of your incident and ask for a letter stating that the account is closed.
- Contact the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax®, Experian®, and TransUnion®) and have them place a free fraud alert on your credit report. Doing so lets each one know to take extra precaution before approving new lines of credit. You may also consider a credit freeze, which prevents any new lines of credit from opening until you have it lifted.
Keep An Eye On Things
If you haven’t signed up for a credit monitoring service, now is the time. The big three reporting agencies offer these services, as do third-party platforms like Credit Karma®. You can set up alerts to be notified of any new activity tied to your personal information. If you don’t want to sign up for a service, at least do your due diligence by checking your credit frequently. You can get your credit report at no cost every 12 months from each of the main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). Request your report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Remember, fraudsters will stop at nothing to access your personal information, and they’re good at what they do! It’s troublesome to have any aspect of life tampered with, but especially so when it comes to student loan identity theft. It pays to know ways to help protect yourself, and if the unfortunate does happen, how to begin the rebuilding process.
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