College students today have grown up with an abundance of technology compared to past generations. Although students might consider themselves tech-savvy, the risk of being affected by cybercrime is still present—case in point: the recent Herff Jones data breach. Herff Jones is a commencement cap and gown vendor for colleges across the US that was recently hacked. The thieves stole students’ credit card information and made various fraudulent purchases. As consumers, students can’t necessarily prevent these data breaches from happening. However, by avoiding a few common pitfalls, the impact of cybercrimes can be reduced.
Risky behavior that can lead to cyberattacks
Managing student loan debt, especially when trying to quickly and efficiently pay them down, is hard enough without having to worry about fraudulent debt accumulating under your name. To avoid becoming a cybercrime victim—or at least lessen the damage done—be aware of these high-risk online behaviors while you’re in school.
Not monitoring your financial accounts
Although you can’t prevent data breaches from affecting you, you can minimize how much harm they impose. One way to do this is by staying on top of your financial accounts. This includes checking, savings, and credit card accounts. View each new transaction to confirm you’ve authorized the charge. You can easily set up account activity email or text alerts through your financial institution. To ensure you spot even the smallest fraudulent charge, set the notification to alert you of any transaction that’s greater than $0.
Using the same password for multiple accounts
Hackers have developed sophisticated methods to acquire your online passwords, and reusing the same one for various accounts makes you an easy target. Always use unique, complex passwords for each online account you create. Consider using a memorable phrase that’s meaningful to you, and spell it using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. If you’re an iOS or Android user and aren’t feeling particularly creative, your device suggests strong passwords for you upon changing them.
Leaving your computer unlocked in a public space
A recent study by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit higher education information technology association, found that a majority of college students connect two or more digital devices to campus Wi-Fi on any given day. Whether you’re using your computer at your school’s library or at a public coffee shop, you’re bound to get up to use the restroom or take a break at some point. When you do, make sure you lock your device so it can’t be accessed while you’re away. Either configure your device so it automatically locks the screen and requires a password after a few minutes of inactivity, or manually put your system to sleep before getting up.
Accessing sensitive information on a public network
Although free and convenient when you need to get online for schoolwork, public Wi-Fi networks aren’t always secure. According to the recent McAfee survey, 90% of American students use public Wi-Fi, but only 18% protect their devices and activity using a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts the data sent while you’re using your device on a public Wi-Fi network. Ask your school’s IT department for free or low-cost VPN recommendations.
Leaving personal information unsecured at parties
Not all cybercrimes start online; in-person theft can be the start of a cybercrime waiting to happen. Leaving your wallet or handbag accessible during a party or having sensitive documents lying around when you’re hosting a social event might put your personal information at risk. If you’re a party guest, keep your personal belongings on you to avoid theft. Party hosts should also ensure financial and personal documents like bank statements are kept inside a locked room that’s not accessible to visitors. This practice can help you avoid issues with fraudulent charges and identity theft.
These are just a handful of the main precautions college students should take to avoid being victims of cybercrimes. If you’ve discovered that your personal information has been compromised, consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report as a next step after notifying your bank and credit card issuers.
For more helpful life advice to get you through college and beyond, check out our Student Life section.