Starting college used to be a kid’s first step into the wide world, but today’s college students have been exposed to the world on the internet from an early age. From their first baby steps on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve warned them about the dangers of talking to strangers online. But the fact is that millennials have very few boundaries about what they will share, and they don’t think twice about buying online or downloading the hottest new app, no matter where it comes from. And that makes them prime targets for criminals looking to steal their student loans, empty their bank accounts, or use their identities to commit fraud that could plague these kids for years.
As you help your college student set up a bank account, get a new phone or laptop, or get credit cards, here are some ways to encourage safe digital behavior at school:
- Before they leave for school, make sure all their digital devices are up to date with security patches, and teach them how to keep them up to date. Sit down with them and make sure phones, laptops, and tablets are set to automatically check for software updates.
- Install security software on laptops. Recognize that kids don’t always think about what links they click on in an email or on web sites. Security software can help protect them from malicious software that can steal their passwords or personal information or lock up their computers.
- Warn them not to share personal financial information online. (Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for excited kids to post a photo of their first credit card on social media.)
- Tell them to not do financial transactions or access personal information over public Wi-Fi networks. Even university networks can easily be spoofed. If they need to do personal business online, using their cell phone as a hotspot is more secure. And they should do those transactions in private, so “shoulder surfers” can’t look over their shoulders to see their passwords.
- Explain that they should be even more careful now about what personal information they share. College housing is not secure, and they don’t want to lead thieves or worse to their dorm.
- Tell them never to loan their devices. Showing photos on the phone is fine, but they shouldn’t let their computers or phones out of their sight.
Parents learn early that you can’t protect your kid from every danger. But with some good coaching, college students can learn the adult skills they need to protect themselves.