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Credit card fraud and your college student

by Barbara Marquand

Young people naturally think they're invincible from life's dangers, including financial woes like credit card fraud. Yet more than 9 million Americans are victims every year of identity theft, and credit card fraud plays a large role.

Before you cosign for an account for your college-bound kid, discuss how to use credit cards safely and avoid scams. Here are 6 safety tips to share:

1. Credit card lending is a no-no

Never let anyone borrow your credit card. A surprising number of ID theft victims -- 16 percent according to Federal Trade Commission surveys -- report they knew who misused their personal information. If you must help out a pal, do the transaction yourself rather than handing over the card.

2. Keep your credit card number a secret

Don't leave credit card statements lying around in your dorm room. Keep them stored in a safe spot and shred them and anything else with your credit card number before throwing them away. Better yet, sign up to receive paperless statements online.

3. Shop online safely

Shop only on secure websites. Look for these signs indicating a site is secure: a closed padlock, an unbroken key symbol, the "s" in the url -- https://, and membership in Internet security programs, such as TRUSTe, Verisign, or BBBonline. Don't use your credit card on unsecured wireless networks, which are vulnerable to hackers. Create tough passwords that include both capital and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation. Avoid using real words in any language or personal numbers, such as birth dates or driver's license numbers, in passwords.

4. Ignore bogus credit card messages

Don't respond to e-mails or text messages claiming they're from credit card companies and demanding you verify your credit card number. Contact credit card companies directly.

5. Credit card alerts

Sign up for your credit card issuer's free transaction alert service, which lets you know by e-mail or text any time there's unusual activity on the account.

6. Safe credit card use at restaurants and bars

Walk your card to the cash register instead of giving it to the waiter at the table, and don't leave blank spaces on the charge slip. Keep receipts and compare them to your credit card statement to make sure there are no unauthorized charges, such as extra tips added by dishonest bartenders.

Although your child may face myriad challenges in college, dealing with the aftermath of credit card fraud shouldn't be among them. Fraud prevention is one lesson your kid should learn before classes begin.

Published 12/06/12

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