Many students think of their college campuses as safe places, and often they are. But when exhausted students are toting around a laptop, a smartphone, an armful of textbooks, and a cup of coffee, it’s not hard to see why they might become a target. In 2014, 57% of over 50,000 reported crimes on college campuses were property crimes (burglary, motor vehicle theft, and robbery). This is a lot of computers, iPods, phones, cars, and bikes to have stolen in just one year. Luckily, a few simple steps can prevent campus theft from happening to you.
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Use common sense.
The majority of theft prevention is common sense. Don’t leave your valuables where just anyone can take them. Lock the door behind you and keep all of your electronics password protected. By making habits out of common sense actions and the tips below, you will make yourself less vulnerable. Hopefully you will never have to deal with the hassle of filing a police report or contacting your credit card companies about fraud alerts. If you minimize the targets, you’ll minimize the risk.
Don’t leave your things unattended.
Go to the library with a couple of friends, even if you’re all studying different things. That way, when you urgently have to go to the bathroom or need to run to the café for a snack, the others can look after your belongings instead of you having to pack them all up and take them with you.
Lock up your bike and/or car.
Leaving something unlocked or unprotected is just asking for it to be taken. Invest in a good bike lock and be sure to loop it through your tires too; you don’t want to be left with a wheelless bike. It’s not a bad idea to buy a bike lock that would be tricky to destroy with bolt cutters, though it will be more expensive than a simpler model. As for your car, it’s even easier to lock up than your bike; just don’t forget to roll up all your windows first!
Don’t leave valuables in your car.
Preventing theft is all about not making yourself a target. If you leave a fancy diamond necklace or a new iPad in full view in the backseat of your car, don’t be surprised if you end up with a brick through your window. Keep your car clean and clear of anything that you would be unwilling to part with. If you have to leave something in your car, make sure it’s out of sight in the center console, glove compartment, or trunk. This may be okay in the short term, but it’s important to find a safer storage location as soon as possible.
Keep your dorm room or apartment locked when you aren’t home.
If you don’t want anyone to go through your things, lock your door. Even if you’re just going to the bathroom, keeping your room locked is a good habit to have. If you leave the door open or the room unlocked, a potential thief could get a good look at what you have to offer. It’s better not to advertise.
It’s particularly important if you live on the ground floor, whether in a dorm room or apartment, to keep your windows closed and locked when you’re not around. An open window is tantalizing to someone who hopes to get a good haul from your home. Further deter criminals by closing curtains or blinds after dark and keeping a light on during waking hours (even if you’re not home).
If you’re going out of town for break, make sure you lock up before you go. If you live in the dorms, take anything valuable with you; your computer is much safer packed up in your carry-on bag than it is just sitting on your desk in an empty room. If you live off campus, ask a trusted neighbor to keep an eye on your house or apartment and to make sure your mail doesn’t pile up outside your door. Consider buying a timer so that a lamp can switch on and off automatically each night to make it look like someone’s home.
Don’t advertise when you’ll be out of town.
It’s tempting to post about your upcoming vacation plans on social media, but if you have a public profile, you’re telling potential thieves when you’re going to be away from your home. While this is less of a problem if you live on campus (because of security measures limiting who has access to dorm buildings), it could be a problem if you live off campus in an apartment or rental home. Save the Facebook and Instagram posts until you’re back from spring break and can share your photos without making your home a target.
Keep your keys on you at all times.
If your keys are with you, it means that someone else can’t be using them to get into your car or sneak into your room. There’s the added bonus of not being able to get locked out. If you lose your keys, you should assume that your locks have been compromised, so report the loss to campus security or your landlord as soon as possible. Unfortunately, you’ll probably be fined for a replacement set.
Personalize your things.
If you want to make your laptop or phone less valuable to someone else, put hard-to-remove stickers on the top. Color on the back of your phone with a permanent marker. Etch your name into the metal of your laptop or make sure your name is otherwise prominently displayed. It’s much harder for a thief to sell something that’s been personalized than it is for him or her to sell something that is immaculate.
Use complex passwords for all your electronics.
If someone hacks into your junk mailbox, it may not seem like a big deal, but if that person can get into your school email, your transcripts, or your records of online purchases, you may be susceptible to credit card or identity theft. Take care to make complex passwords (they should be long, a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, and include numbers and special characters) for all your online memberships, your email, and your computer itself. Don’t reuse the same password for more than one website. You want to make it hard for potential hackers to find out anything about you that isn’t in the public domain. Learn more about internet safety here.
If your email, bank account, or identity is compromised, immediately change all passwords and notify your bank and/or the police. While credit card fraud can often be easily resolved through your bank without police interference (unauthorized charges happen daily; your bank will generally reimburse you and send you new cards), identity theft is much more serious.
If you identity has been stolen, you should file a police report with as much detail as possible, listing:
- What information the thief has
- Which accounts the thief can access
- What happened to alert you to the theft
- How much money has been stolen, and
- Whether credit applications have been submitted in your name
You will also want to call and notify your bank and credit card companies. If your Social Security number is compromised, you’ll need to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission as well. Learn more about identity theft here.
Understand the terminology, then hope you don’t have to use it.
There are four words commonly associated with property crimes: burglary, robbery, theft, and assault.
While all can vary in their severity, theft is generally the least severe of these crimes; it simply refers to the unlawful taking of something. For example, imagine a student leaves their computer on a table in the library while buying a snack. He or she comes back to find the computer stolen. This is a theft. Theft may be considered a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the items that were taken.
Robbery occurs when a person is threatened or hurt during a theft (i.e., the theft is committed by force). Robbery is always a felony and the value of the items taken has no effect on the degree of the crime. Robbery could involve a perpetrator verbally threatening an individual into handing over their belongings or a perpetrator physically harming an individual in pursuit of their belongings.
Burglary goes hand-in-hand with trespassing. A burglary occurs when a perpetrator enters a building or structure (like a vehicle, boat, etc.) with the intent to commit a crime, typically theft. The severity of the crime depends on whether the building is occupied or considered a place where an individual should feel reasonably safe (e.g., their home, hotel room, or campsite).
Any property crime can be accompanied by assault, which is any intentional physical contact or threat of harm between the perpetrator and the victim. While this may involve hand-to-hand contact, it can also involve the perpetrator using a weapon or tool (a gun, a baseball bat, etc.) to harm or attempt to harm the victim. Crimes that are accompanied by assault are punished more severely than those that are not.
Who to call if you’re a victim or witness:
- If you have experienced a theft, call campus security or the local nonemergency number.
- If a robbery, burglary, or assault is ongoing and you are able to call 9-1-1 or campus security, do so.
- If it’s within 15 minutes of the crime occurring, the perpetrator is still in the vicinity, or someone needs urgent medical assistance, call 9-1-1 or campus security.
- If it’s been more than 15 minutes since the crime occurred, the perpetrator is no longer in the immediate vicinity, and no one has been injured or is need of immediate medical assistance, call campus security or the local nonemergency number.
Being the victim of a crime can have physical, financial, and mental side effects, but law enforcement agents will help you through the process. Read more about what to do after an assault here.
Page last updated: 03/2019