There’s somewhere around $1.3 trillion in student loan debt out there, and millions of individual student loan borrowers. Those numbers are only going to continue rising, as evidenced by statistics from the Classes of 2015, 2014, and 2013.
Given these figures, student loan borrowers are being increasingly targeted by scammers and other entities that are looking to take advantage of people or steal sensitive personal data. What can you do to protect yourself?
Never Share Your Log-In Information
This includes your Federal PIN, your FSA ID (which is the new log-in mechanism for federal student loan borrowers), as well as your username and passwords for your individual online student loan accounts. Giving anyone direct access to your student loans – even a friend or a family member – is a potentially dangerous thing to do. Not only can they potentially make changes to your student loan accounts (intentionally or not) that you would not be aware of, but they may also then be able to access other sensitive personal information about you, such as your debit card or bank account information. As an attorney who works with student loan borrowers daily, I can tell you that I never ask my clients to give me any of their usernames or passwords for direct account access.
Use Strong Passwords or a Password Manager
We live in an age when hackers and other schemers are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Gaining access to a student loan borrower’s online account can allow a hacker to obtain the borrower’s email address, social security number, date of birth, banking information, and a host of other details that can completely compromise your identity. If the password you use for your online student loan account is the same or similar to other passwords you use, then the hacker may be able to break into more of your accounts. Use a strong, unique password that no one is likely to guess – use many characters and a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. You can also use a Password Manager, a type of sophisticated software that creates unique and difficult-to-break passwords for all of your accounts, and then stores these passwords on an encrypted server that only you can access.
Monitor Your Student Loan Accounts Monthly
This is a good practice regardless of whether you have hired a third-party to help you or not. It’s easy to set up an auto-payment arrangement for your student loans and then assume that you’re all set and no further action is required. But even if you’re on auto-pilot with student loan management, it would be prudent to log-in to your student loan accounts at least once per month, just to make sure everything is as it should be.
Be Mindful of How You Access and Share Your Student Loan Data
Logging into your student loan account on your own computer using your own network (which hopefully is protected with a password) is one thing. Logging in on a public computer or using an insecure network is entirely different, and it could allow others to view or access your data. Furthermore, sending sensitive personal information (such as account numbers, social security numbers, or log-in information) should only be done with the greatest of care, if at all. Use encryption software, or protect a document with a password if it contains sensitive personal information and you’re sending it by email, cloud-sharing, or some other electronic means. Or better yet, don’t send it electronically at all.
Monitor Your Credit Reports
If your identity has been compromised, you may not even be aware of it until your bank account is drained or you receive some sort of bill or collections letter in the mail for a loan you never took out. Be proactive and monitor your credit reports. Everyone is entitled to one free credit report each year through the Federal Trade Commission. All three major credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian – also offer credit-monitoring services for a fee, as well as certain “lock-down” mechanisms that you can put in place if your identity is compromised. Other companies, such as Credit Karma, may offer similar services at a lower rate.