How to prevent theft and crime on college campus

Updated April 6, 2023

The start of a new academic year is almost upon us, and with it comes a horde of students leaving home to live on campus for the first time. It’s an exciting time for them: a chance to try their wings as young adults and fly solo. There are new friends to meet, new ideas to explore and new experiences to enjoy.

Of course, not all new experiences are pleasant ones, and one of the most prevalent of those is campus theft. Students living in residences, eating in dining halls and studying in libraries are vulnerable to having their belongings – or identities – stolen if they aren’t careful.

Students walking on campus between classes

Why are college campuses targets for theft

With all of the electronics that today’s students possess – laptops, cellphones, etc. – they offer great temptation, both for premeditated burglaries and casual, opportunistic theft. Credit cards and bank cards are also targets, both for monetary purposes and for identity theft. Many students also use bicycles to travel on campus, and they also make appealing targets.

A university is considered a target-rich environment. Students become complacent and leave their iPhone on a table in the cafeteria or leave their room door open. It takes only eight seconds for a thief to enter an unsecured area and walk off with something.Police Superintendent at Tulane University, in New Orleans

Theft by the numbers

In Canada, the University of Manitoba reported a 42 per cent increase in thefts reported to campus security between 2015 and 2016.

Frank Cormier, a professor of sociology and criminology at the U of M, told the Manitoban, much of the campus theft isn’t done by hardened criminals, but by casual thieves.

A lot of crime is based simply on the fact that the opportunity presents itself […] They’re willing to commit a crime, but they’re not committed to committing a crime.Frank Cormier, Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Manitoba

College theft prevention tips

Students must be aware that campus theft is prevalent and care for their possessions properly. They reduce the chances of being victims if they take the following precautions:

  1. Hide your valuables

    Don’t leave valuable items lying around unattended in public places or unlocked residence rooms. It’s easy to place your laptop in a desk drawer when you go next door to talk to a fellow student for a few minutes or to take your cellphone along when you leave your library carrel to search for a book in the stacks. It only takes eight seconds for someone to swipe an unattended object, so beware of leaving your possessions in plain sight when you leave the area.

  2. Lock it up

    Okay, perhaps it’s not that drastic, but knowing how to properly secure your belongings is a useful skill. Get the best possible lock for your bicycle, for example; titanium u-locks for bicycles are preferable to cable locks, because cables can be easily cut. Anchor locks are useful for securing items to a piece of furniture, keeping your laptop tethered to the library desk as you take a washroom break. For your dormitory room, you might want to consider a mini-vault or a small security safe if you have expensive jewellery or passports with you. This can come also handy for credit card bills and anything else that might provide identity thieves the opportunity to copy account numbers.

  3. Create an inventory

    Make a list of all of your valuable items and their serial numbers and keep it somewhere accessible. A number of universities run property registration programs that aim to prevent thefts on campus, and they may provide stickers or security plates that signal to would-be thefts that the item is on file and can be traced. Sometimes, these stickers and plates are designed to leave a mark when removed, indicating to a potential buyer that the item has been stolen. Note to students: If someone offers you a deal on a laptop or cellphone that appears too good to be true, the item may have been stolen, so be wary.

  4. Insure your belonings

    Consider purchasing insurance coverage for your valuables while you living away from home. Your parents’ residential theft insurance may not always cover you while you are living elsewhere, but tenant insurance is relatively inexpensive.

  5. Keep your PIN safe

    Be careful when shopping online or using bank machines to ensure that your personal identification numbers (PINs) can’t be copied by others for identity theft purposes.

Although thefts on campus do happen, there’s no reason for students to panic. By following the aforementioned steps, the likelihood of losing a precious possession is much diminished.

Preventing identifty theft in college and university

It’s a great chance for them to grow and mature and there are myriad life lessons ahead. However, as parents, you don’t want these lessons to be painful ones, so, along with discussions about drugs and about dating, you’ll undoubtedly want to talk with your children about identity theft.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the theft of a person’s personal identity details, such as name, birthdate, Social Insurance/Security Number and credit card account numbers and illegally using them to purchase items, obtain loans, apply for jobs or commit other types of fraud in the victim’s name.

18% of all identity theft complaints were made by people ages 20 to 29.

Students may be baffled to think that identity theft is a crime that should concern them. After all, they have few possessions, so they don’t consider themselves targets for thievery. However, the lack of a criminal record and a good credit rating are exactly what may tempt someone bent on using a new identity for fraudulent purposes.

Consequences of identity theft

The consequences of identity theft can be extremely harmful to the victim, even though no physical property has been stolen. Someone who steals an identity can damage the victim’s credit rating, accumulate debt in his or her name and otherwise destroy the reputation attached to that name.

Needless to say, it requires time and effort to try to undo the damage that an identity thief has done. It’s not something with which a young person starting out in life wants on his or her To Do list.

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Tips for preventing identity theft in college

Since young folks spend their lives online, it makes sense to develop good safety habits. Taking steps to ensure that identity theft doesn’t happen is much easier than trying to clean up the mess after it has occurred.

By taking the following steps, students have a much better chance of maintaining the good reputations they brought with them to post-secondary education.

  1. Guard important information

    Be very, very careful with key pieces of information, such as your Social Insurance/Security Number and your computer passwords. Memorize them, rather than write them down, or, for passwords, write yourself clues that only you will understand. Passwords shouldn’t be obvious, e.g., your birthdate. Your SIN/SSN is a key to your identity, so guard it as you would your most precious possessions.

  2. Protect your important paperwork

    You undoubtedly have all kinds of paperwork, such as forms for student loans or credit card bills, that could give thieves pertinent information they can use in identity theft. Keep them in a locked filing cabinet or a safe or send them to your parents. Never bring your SIN/SSN card or your birth certificate to campus; these should be under lock and key in a safe or safety deposit box at the bank.

  3. Shred old documents

    Invest in a shredder for your residence room so you can quickly destroy promotional lures from credit card companies or other mail that provides potential thieves with key personal information.

  4. Use online security measures

    Today, there’s free WiFi available everywhere: in coffee shops, malls, etc. Take advantage of it for communicating with friends, but never use it for online banking or purchasing. Reserve such transactions for your own server or for a password-protected, secure WiFi system to prevent anyone from accessing your personal information. In addition, be sure that the online purchasing sites you are using are secure themselves (https: or a security shield should be evident online).

  5. Dorm dangers

    Your residence room may seem safe since it’s your home away from home, but be careful about leaving papers with personal information lying around. You never know who may drop by with your roommate while you are out.

  6. Beware how much you share online

    Enjoy sharing information on Facebook or Twitter, but don’t share too much. There’s no need to disclose your birthday or anything very personal that would allow someone to easily guess your passwords. Be discreet.

  7. Check your creditscore

    It’s worth getting an annual credit report to check your rating and see if there is any reason for you to worry.

  8. Be wary online

    Often, thieves send emails mimicking banks or other legitimate organizations and ask you to sign in with your password, etc. Be very careful – always check the return email address before assuming the message is legitimate. Most institutions don’t ask for personal information online, since they, too, are worried about security.

Remember when it comes to identity theft, the old adage applies: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Want to learn more? Visit our Renter resource centre for more tips and information about life as a renter. Or, get an online quote in under 5 minutes and find out how affordable personalized home insurance can be.


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