The Chronicle’s View: Protect your personal numbers

Identity theft sucks. It costs thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to repair. Everybody knows somebody it’s happened to and even careful people can be victimized by it.

There are so many ways for brilliant criminals to access your personal information and use it to destroy your credit.

University students should be extra careful for two reasons. First, something of this magnitude could financially devastate a student. As students cross the threshold of adulthood and become self-reliant, budgets are tight and good credit is hard to obtain.

Many are applying for credit for the first time. Financial decisions made now may determine what kind of car or house we can buy in another five or 10 years.

Identity theft could screw up entire plans for the future.

And someone skipping meals to afford a chemistry textbook certainly can’t afford to clear his or her good name because someone is buying furniture in Austria with his or her credit card number.

The second reason university students should be especially careful is because many are nave while just entering the adult world.

This is the first time in their lives they’re carrying something besides a cell phone and gum in their purse. This is the first time they’re paying an electric bill and signing up for a credit card.

Students are adults, but some aren’t used to the extra responsibility. Carelessness with financial documents, such as credit card applications or bills, is one way to get your identity stolen.

Many people aren’t aware of what kinds of things need extra security, such as a Social Security number.

It’s on virtually every important card in a wallet or purse but few view it as the key to our information that it is. Everybody is careful with where we put or to whom we give our car keys, and the SSN card is also a key of sorts.

Always ask how a business will use your number if it asks for it. Don’t put it on your driver’s license. Immediately tear up and throw away documents that reveal it.

Make sure all your financial accounts are password protected. Even seemingly small accounts may reveal bits of information that could grant access to bigger things.

Unauthorized long distance phone calls are a common form of identity theft. The person who cracked your account information didn’t have to ask you outright, he or she found it through other means.

And don’t be careless with personal belongings. Every year campus police receives literally dozens of stolen bag reports because people leave personal effects unguarded in the bookstore or library.

Thieves often wander the library looking for unguarded belongings students have left while going to the bathroom or grabbing a book.

In the bookstore use the lockers. You need a quarter to lock them, but the quarter is refunded.

No matter how big of a rush you are in, being late is better than having your bag, and identity, stolen.