At the start of each school year, parents and students fill out countless forms and applications that require personal information, such as social security numbers and date of birth — information that criminals can use in identity theft schemes.

“(Most people) don’t have an idea of where that data is going and, with college students, they probably don’t care,” Mike Prusinski, a certified identity theft risk management specialist, said.

But they should, he said.

“As consumers, we need to increase our education level about what’s going on with our data,” said Prusinski, who is also senior vice president of corporate communications for identity theft protection company LifeLock. “There is an identity stolen every three seconds in the United States. You are 10 times more likely to have your identity stolen than your car. There’s a good reason why it’s called the fastest growing crime in America.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, as many as 9 million Americans become victims of identity theft. How are thieves stealing information? According to the FTC,

  • Dumpster diving: They rummage through trash, looking for bills or other documents.
  • Skimming: They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing credit cards.
  • Phishing: They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get Internet users to reveal personal information.
  • Changing victims’ addresses: They divert billing statements to another location by completing a change-of-address form.
  • Stealing: They steal wallets, purses and mail – including bank and credit card statements and pre-approved credit offers, replacement checks and tax data