According to the latest data released by the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, California ranks among the top three states in the nation with the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft complaints. On the average, rip-off victims spend around $4,000 recovering from a single incident. Because many college students fail to exercise discretion whenever they share confidential information on the Internet, they are becoming increasingly susceptible to having their identities hijacked.

(Courtesy of Scott Spiro)

(Courtesy of Scott Spiro)

“College students are the number one at-risk group for identity theft because of their high use of smartphones and social media,” said Scott Spiro, CEO at Computer Solutions Group, Inc., an active member of the United States Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force. “In many cases, they do not have a full understanding of the consequences surrounding identity theft. This burgeoning crime is not just about money, but also a student’s name and reputation.”

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What are the primary lures trapping students?

“One of the most common ways a thief steals personal information is by picking credit card offer letters out of the trash. College students receive these pre-approved offers monthly. Obtaining a social security number is yet another danger. Unfortunately, many colleges require a social security number to gain access to class information.”

How does this crime impact a graduate’s employment opportunities?

“Identity theft victims often face a long road to clear up their good name. Damaged credit or fraudulent debt records can cause difficulty obtaining loans. Additionally, a job may be denied based on a background check.”

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How can students avoid costly pitfalls?

“Students need to be aware of their surroundings. It can be easy for other students to access smartphones and social media accounts without permission, if left unprotected. Also, credit and debit cards should be kept in a safe place.”

What is your message to students?

“I would advise that students shred all pre-approved credit card offers and bills before trashing them and keep important documents, like social security cards, bank statements and receipts, under lock and key. Moreover, they must never shop online or pay bills from a public computer.”

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Sharon Raiford Bush is an award-winning journalist who covers topics of social interest in greater Los Angeles. Some news articles she has authored have been archived by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Sharon also contributes to