It’s time once again for college students across the country to schlep their stuff into dorm rooms and tiny apartments. And if you’re one of those students, you’re probably busy thinking about how you’re going to fit all of those clothes into that tiny closet.
Fair enough. But while you’re pondering how to talk your roommate out of half her storage space, you should also consider how to keep those precious clothes—and your laptop, iPod, cell phone, bike and identity—safe on campus.
Even though college campuses seem like bubbles, there’s actually no force field keeping out people who can’t keep their hands off other people’s stuff. Here’s what you should know about keeping your stuff safe while you’re at school.
Lock your doors. Enough said.
Don’t leave your stuff unattended -- even for a minute. That’s pretty obvious, right?
Hide the goods. Don’t leave important papers or enticing valuables out in the open, especially when you’re not in your room. Put your small electronics and jewelry in your sock drawer, and file personal papers in the back of a desk drawer. Better yet, stash it all in a small safe or locked cabinet.
“Immunize” your computer. If you have your own computer, you need to protect it from malware—short for “malicious software,” which infiltrates your computer without your knowledge and can destroy files, collect personal info about you and wreak havoc on your operating system. Many schools provide free software to remove malware and “clean” your computer. Call the IT department on campus to learn more.
Protect your identity. Shred anything that has your personal information on it—including credit-card offers—and don’t ever give out your info via phone, email or text message.
Study your (credit) history. Your credit report contains info about your credit accounts and your bill-paying history, so if someone has stolen your identity and used it to borrow money, you’ll find out by checking the report. You’re entitled by law to see a free credit report once a year, request your report at www.annualcreditreport.com. To find out how to report errors on your report, check out www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Ask for help. Your parents’ homeowners’ insurance policy probably covers your stuff if you live in a dorm, but ask your mom or dad to find out for sure. If you live off campus, you’re probably not covered; opt for renter’s insurance, but be aware of the deductible. If it’s too high, it might exceed the value of a stolen iPod or cell phone.
Label and lock your laptop. Remember when you were 12 years old, and your mom wrote your initials in all of your clothes before you left for camp? You want to apply a similar strategy to your electronic gadgets. One of the best options is a STOP Security Plate (www.stoptheft.com), which marks equipment with a traceable registration number and a chemically bonded tattoo that cannot be removed. You might also want to use a laptop lock, which will attach your computer to a stationary object (like a desk at the library). But even if it’s locked up, don’t leave your laptop unattended for too long.
Rack your ride. Skip the inexpensive chain locks for your bike in favor of a U-lock, which is tougher for thieves to cut. And ask whether your college offers a bike registration program; if your bike is stolen and then recovered, the police can return it to you.
Keep it confidential. As much as you like your new college buddies, don’t trust anyone with your credit card or ATM card, pin numbers, Social Security number or other personal info. If you decide to share a pizza one night, pay your share in cash. This way, if someone does steal your identity or “borrow” some money, you don’t have to wonder if your new friends were involved.
Be smart. A little common sense goes a long way. You’ll enjoy your college experience a whole lot more if you don’t have to reclaim your identity or buy a new laptop because someone stole yours. Outsmart potential thieves, and your only worry will be your teeny, tiny closet. We can’t help you there.
If you discover that something has been stolen, take these steps:
Call the campus police. Ask them to fill out a written report, so you have it in case you need to file an insurance claim or, to show as proof to credit agencies in case of stolen identity.
Report stolen student loans. Call the U.S. Department of Education’s hotline at 1-800-MISUSED for help.
Stop the spree. If your credit card or wallet is stolen, call the three major credit reporting agencies and put a fraud alert on your credit reports, which prevents anyone from opening new credit for 90 days. Here’s who to call: TransUnion at 800-680-7289; Experian at 888-397-3742; Equifax at 800-846-5279.