Shredding for the College Set
Fellowes Inc. makes shredders. So, it's no surprise that it recently issued a press release urging college-bound students to include shredders on their back-to-school shopping lists.
Here's some of what the company said in a recent e-mail release: "Credit card offers, communal dormitory garbage cans and unsolicited mail make college campuses an identity thief's dream," said Kristen Gehrig, senior marketing manager at Fellowes. "It's frightening how careless college students can be with their personal information. However, by shredding personal documents before throwing them away, college students can significantly decrease their risk of becoming a victim of identity theft."
My first reaction was to laugh; "what a great marketing pitch," I thought. But as I read on, I realized that Fellowes raised some good points about college students and identity theft. For example, it noted that as a whole, Americans tend to overestimate the risk of identity theft to the elderly but underestimate it to the young. In fact, statistics on a number of recent surveys show that it's the younger generation that's most vulnerable.
The reasons are simple, explained Maureen Moore, Fellowes' director of corporate marketing, in a telephone interview. First, there's lifestyle. Students are leaving home and living with other individuals. "There's a lot of traffic in and out of rooms and chances for a lot of eyeballs" to view a student's personal information, Moore said. Most students probably don't even think about that, especially since they come from protective home environments, she said.
Additionally, this may be the first time a student has a credit card or phone bill in his/her name and is receiving bills and, of course, lots of credit-card solicitations with personal information. "A lot of times, this is just thrown in the trash, not shredded" or torn up in some sort of secure way. "Nobody at this point in their life is thinking about destroying that information," Moore noted.
Even worse, many universities are still using Social Security numbers as a student ID. That's what students need to use to register for class, get their grades, etc. While a lot of schools are changing, "a lot of them have not," Moore said.
On top of that, most students probably are not even aware of the potential for identity theft. And since they probably don't have a credit history, they don't think to check their credit records to make sure no one has opened an account in their name. This makes the students easy targets for ID thefts.
These are all valid points, but probably not enough to make my college-bound freshman buy a shredder. In fact, she just rolled her eyes at me when I even mentioned it--and responded by pointing to an earlier story I wrote about shredder safety. Whatever you and/or your student may decide about shredders, it's worth remembering that all personal information should be destroyed in some way before you dispose of it.
Also worth your time--and your student's--is the ID theft quiz that Fellowes has created with the Identity Theft Resource Center. The quiz analyzes your personal habits, tallies a vulnerability score and provides personalized protection tips based on your responses. Those tips, not surprisingly, call for increased shredder use. But there's lots of other good information as well.
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