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Consumer Reports explains how students can prevent identity theft

Identity theft [MGN Online]

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Between homework and exams, identity theft is the last thing on college students' minds. But that doesn't mean they can't be ripped off.

Especially because so many of them use credit cards instead of cash.

Consumer Reports took a look at the growing problem, and offers tips on keeping personal information safe on campus.

Nadine Schiefer uses her credit and debit cards to purchase just about everything--like meals, books, and entertainment. She and her Mom sometimes worry about criminals stealing Nadine's identity and racking up bills in her name.

"I know that it has happened to people that I know. If it's happened to them, why can't it happen to me?" Nadine said.

"You have to go through a long process trying to fix all the problems that this can bring," said her mom, Marina Schiefer.

Nadine knows not to share sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers and her social security number unless absolutely necessary. But Consumer Reports says there are other ways critical information can leak out.

"Criminals love public wi-fi because it may not be secure--potentially giving those criminals access to your computer. For things like shopping or banking it's better to use private wi-fi that you access with a password," said Consumer Reports Electronics Editor Bree Fowler.

Consider using your phone's data connection for sensitive transactions. That's also safer than public wi-fi for banking or shopping.

"It's important to keep in mind that college databases have been hacked recently. Now while students can't do much about that, they can take steps to limit the damage from data breaches whether on-campus or elsewhere," Fowler said.

Change passwords and check bank statements and credit cards for unauthorized charges.

Also, check with the credit reporting companies, Transunion, Experian and Equifax for unexplained debt. And if anyone has tried to open up credit in the student's name inform the bureau that the attempt was fraudulent.

If you think your identity has been stolen, consider putting a temporary freeze on your credit.

That can be done through the three credit reporting agencies.

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