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College prep on security required

Armin Brott

Dear Mr. Dad: My son is starting college – more than 1,000 miles from home – in the fall. He’s a remarkably responsible young man when it comes to academics and getting jobs. But he’s hopelessly naive about things like identity theft, credit card fraud, and the like.

I don’t want to panic him but I think he needs to know a little bit more about how the world works. How can we persuade him to pay more attention to his own security?

A: Well, the good news is that you and your son are absolutely typical of parents and young adults these days. Unfortunately, that’s also the bad news.

I had a horrifyingly eye-opening conversation with Robert Siciliano, a college and personal security expert. According to Bob, four out of five Americans will be the victims of some kind of theft or fraud during their lifetime.

Most adults say they’re concerned about things like identity theft and they’ve taken steps like installing antivirus and Internet protection software on their computers and shredding personal documents.

A recent survey by the Identity Theft Resource Center found that while most students use antivirus or other software protection, they’re pretty lackadaisical about nearly everything else.

They share online passwords with each other and have no problem posting personal information online.

Only half say they shred personal documents; 44 percent are concerned with having their personal belongings (including valuables like that expensive laptop and mp3 player you just bought) stolen, 40 percent regularly leave their apartment or dorm doors unlocked, and only 34 percent are worried about walking alone on campus at night.

Chances are your name and personal information are on some financial aid forms, maybe you co-signed a credit card or an apartment lease, or maybe you sent your child a check for expenses. So when he goes out for the evening and leaves his dorm room open, he’s putting you at risk, too.

So what to do?

•Talk to your children. They need to understand that, no, these things don’t happen only to other people. In fact, 30 percent of the complaints received by the ITRC come from people between ages 18 and 29.

•Shred. Thieves have no problem digging through your trash looking for old bills and other juicy pieces of personal information.

•Drop letters in a mailbox or pay bills on line. Leaving an envelope with a check and a credit card number on your porch is begging for trouble.

Armin Brott is an Oakland, Calif.-based author of six best-selling books on fatherhood. Find resources for fathers at
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