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Editorial: Keep ID theft risk, journaling in mind

College students are entering that "buckle-down" time of year--the time of the winter sports season, when papers are due, exams are on the horizon and the weather is most conducive to seeking refuge in the dorm room or library, books at hand, becoming immersed in study.

Youths in this age group are especially vulnerable to outside predators. They're also concerned about their health. This is a good chance for them to consider how to prevent identity theft, and keep a food journal toward monitoring eating habits and reaching healthy lifestyle goals.

Students have laptops on their desks, smartphones in their pockets and tablets in their backpacks. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection encourages families to take steps to minimize the risks of identity theft.

The social aspect of college dorms and other living quarters can create situations where both friends and unknowns regularly track through shared spaces. College students in their first excursions from their childhood home might be first-time debit or credit card users and may not be careful with their cards and wallets. Moving from class to class can lead to a misplaced backpack or purse, and students may not think to keep valuable belongings and personal information out of sight of their classmates.

A number of common sense steps can help students avoid being the victim of identity theft:

--Keep valuable personal information at home. Carry a slim wallet or purse and keep only essential information on hand. Social Security cards, passports and extra credit cards should be kept safe either at a parent's house or in the dorm room.

--Have a lock box in the dorm room. Fire-safe lock boxes can be picked up for as little as $20 and can slow or stop a potential burglary of small items. In some cases, a dorm room desk or closet may include a locked drawer for valuables.

--Keep dorm room doors closed and locked when away, even if only out for a minute or two.

--Purchase a crosscut shredder for the room. Shred documents including personal information, such as financial documents about student loans and pre-approved credit card offers.

--Check bank and credit card statements regularly to ensure there are no unexpected transactions. Contact the financial institution immediately if questioning a transaction.

--Make sure to transfer mail through the U.S. Postal Service when moving from the dorm or from one apartment to another. Thieves can use personal documents or pre-approved credit offers left in a mailbox to set up lines of credit in another person's name.

For use of electronic gadgets connected to the internet:

--Lock down systems with long and complex passwords. Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters to build a lengthy password.

--Be careful of what's posted to social media networks. A combination of a name, address and birthdate may be enough for a thief to call a financial institution and obtain information from an account.

--If using a WiFi signal to connect to a site where personal information will be entered, make sure the site is secure. A secure site's URL address will begin with https://

--Keep a close eye on electronics and don't loan out a gadget where passwords are stored.

Whether the college crowd (or the rest of the population, for that matter) is trying to lose or maintain their weight, food journals can help them slow down and take a serious look at the details of their diet. Such journals not only are effective tools to track how much is being consumed and what's being eaten, but can also raise awareness and accountability. Whether using a notebook or computer to log choices, include as much information as possible throughout the day.

Here's some other advice:

--Include goals. Write down the ultimate goal, then break it into manageable pieces, including monthly, weekly and daily objectives. Read them often to serve as a reminder and help stay focused.

--Record everything eaten and drank immediately. Be honest. Make sure to include sauces, gravies, salad dressings and other condiments.

--Write down the time of day eating takes place and activities are being done. This helps in understanding how much time typically elapses between meals, how often eating occurs and if late-night snacks are being consumed. Noting what's going on when eating or drinking--driving, watching television or sitting at a desk--helps identify patterns and types of foods associated with activities, and create a plan to combat bad habits.

--Describe thoughts and feelings. Monitoring feelings before, during and after will help determine moods triggering emotional eating and how eating tendencies contribute to feelings thereafter. It's helpful to understand food's effects physically and mentally.

--Reflect on challenges and successes. Jotting down notes about difficult situations or areas of struggle will help identify what the problem is and how it's been dealt with. If the situation occurs again, this leads to being prepared to react in a healthy way. Along with challenges, write down successes, big or small. Revisit these for motivation and inspiration.