You've heard the data breach horror stories, hackers hitting big targets from major retailers to the federal government.
Don't forget, there's a lot of personal information stored at major academic institutions.
"You think about college campuses, they are rich with data, right? So the obvious, you have student data, people coming and going to school for the first time and they're registering for classes and they've got all this information they have to give the institution. That's all very valuable data to cyber criminals and the like," says Michael Kaiser, of the National Cyber Security Alliance.
Kaiser says universities could be a prime targets for identity theft and some are just catching up to that idea. "They may not always be aware of how much data they have. And, that starts with any kind of organization looking at, what is the data we have on this campus, what are the crown jewels of that data, and what are we doing to protect it?"
Students need to protect themselves
Kaiser says students need to be ready to protect their personal information and their school's network as well.
"It starts at the very basic level of every user who's accessing a network, simple things like software patches, strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, which is a way to have something in addition to a password. That should be implemented at almost every college campus at this point," he said.
Kaiser also says parents can help by sharing information with their students on campus. Inform your students, if there are any breaches to the family bank accounts, insurance company, or any place the family does business. College students now have their own credit cards, bank accounts, and other personal financial information they need to protect.
Identity theft, data breach, information to take to campus
As students move out on their own, they become responsible for protecting their own information and accounts. Mom or dad may have been able to lend a hand in the past, but young adults should start taking an active, vigilant role in their own protection. Parents, you can send the information to your students, so they know the best ways to guard against identity theft.
Ruth to the Rescue personal info protection
Set fraud alerts on your account so your bank or financial institution will contact you if there's suspicious activity.
*Change your passwords frequently and don't use the same passwords for financial accounts that you use for social media and email.
*Create "strong" passwords with a good mix of letters, symbols, and numbers. Do not use old standbys like 1-2-3-4 or "password."
*Consider having a "dirty card". That's one credit card you use online or at stores. Then, just one card is at risk if someone should hack a retailers system.
*Reconsider how you use your debit card. Remember if that card is compromised, thieves take YOUR money. You will likely get it back, but you could be bouncing checks in the meantime.
*Monitor all your financial accounts carefully. If you have computer access, try checking your account weekly. Do not wait for the monthly statement.
*Check your credit report at least once a year to make sure no one is establishing credit in your name. This is critical for college students, as if someone has started using your identity, you might not find out until you try to buy a home or car and the mess will be hard to clean up.
In the event of a data breach to your account, here are some things to consider:
*Stay calm. Consumers are not liable for fraudulent charges on stolen account numbers.
*Check with the official website of the specific business for the latest information. Type the store name directly into your browser. Do NOT click on a link from an email or social media message. Scammers can "spook" those links and lead you to a bogus site.
*Beware of emails that may come into your inbox, claiming to help you deal with the crisis. Those emails could be also fake, hoping you'll click on a dangerous link or share personal information.
*If your card was compromised, you will likely hear from the bank or card-issuer first. If you have questions, call the customer service number on your card.
*Consider putting fraud alerts on all your accounts. Check with each bank or financial institution on how to do so. You can usually set a dollar amount that will spark a fraud warning, if the company sees suspicious activity.
*If you see a fraudulent charge, report it to your bank or credit card issuer immediately so the charge can be reversed and a new card issued.
*Keep receipts so you can prove which charges are legitimate.
*When you hear about a data breach, share that information with family and friends, so they can also follow these steps to protect themselves.
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