Congratulations, graduate! With college behind you, it’s time to get serious about protecting your identity at a very vulnerable time.
Why is graduation so critical to your personal data? In the coming weeks, you will hand over practically your entire identity to a nameless, faceless, possibly online entity in order to find a job in your career field. Even worse, criminals are literally sitting online right now, hoping to lure you in with employment scams in order to get your data.
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your identity at this time.
1. Order a free credit report three times a year
If you haven’t done so already (we get it, senior year was pretty tough with the course load you were taking!), now is the time to order a copy of your credit report. There are free services that will help you request it, just be sure to watch out for hidden subscription fees.
Take a look at your credit report and make sure there are no surprises, like open lines of credit that you either forgot about or weren’t yours to begin with. Black marks on your credit report can come back to haunt you during your job search, and depending on your field, some employers will want to see how your credit looks before giving you the job.
You're entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major reporting agencies. If you request one report in January, another in May, and another in September, you’ll get an ongoing look at your report and what it contains.
2. Protect your identity starting at the job application
Also, when you’re applying for jobs, remember that applications contain a lot of information about you. Hopefully, you already know not to turn over your Social Security card or number during the application process, but that doesn’t mean that all employers know not to ask. Too often, the applications are just outdated, and no one ever bothered to update them to take out the blank space for your SSN. Be prepared to hand it over once the job is yours, but don’t supply it during the initial phase.
3. Create an email just for your job search
However, remember there’s still a great deal of information to be gleaned from your application, and that it can be used against you. Your email address could lead to spam or scam emails, for example. It’s not a bad idea to open a free, “clean” email address that you can check for updates on your application. This way, you’ll also know that you haven’t missed an email from a potential employer, as all of your applications will be linked to this one email address and only used for that purpose.
4. Clean up your social media
Finally, ask yourself an important question: “Do I need a social media cleanup?” Believe it or not, some employers check out their applicants' online profiles before deciding whether or not to hire them. They aren’t just looking for signs of typical college debauchery anymore, though. You might not have any embarrassing photos floating around with your username tagged in them, but even things like political posts, rants about current events, or other personal opinions that could make the company look bad if you were hired aren’t a good idea.
Clean up your social media accounts and make sure that you’re putting your best face—and therefore, the company’s best face, if you’re hired—forward. And as for those photos, yes… get rid of those too now that you’re trading in your free-spirited college kid days for a more mature, “hire me, I’m the best for the job” persona. While you’re at it, make sure your privacy settings are set to the highest possible standard offered by each platform. It’s not just about keeping the boss from seeing your posts, but it has everything to do with making sure your career plans don’t fall short when someone steals your information online.
5. Download the free ID Theft Help from ITRC
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530.