Thinking about your safety might not be top of mind when you first start university, but taking it seriously now can prevent unnecessary trouble and heartache later on. Read our comprehensive guide and get a head start on how to stay safe as a student.
First and foremost, always be responsible for yourself and your belongings – don’t rely on friends and housemates to look after you or your stuff. This is especially true for first year students who are living away from home for the first time and aren’t used to things like checking their house is secure or turning off the heating (usually mum or dad’s job!). Also, your campus may not look unsafe due to the relaxed atmosphere and thousands of students passing through every day but they are often hotspots for planned crime. Always stay vigilant and don’t get complacent about your surroundings.
SECURING YOUR PROPERTY
Student properties are notorious amongst thieves for rick pickings due to the plethora of gadgets and devices lying around and the lax attitude of most students towards safety and security. For example, if all of the housemates happen to go for a night out separately from one another, who is going to check that all the windows are closed and locked? The last one leaving the property can check downstairs and their own room but what about the other bedrooms which might be locked? Also, when students are drunk they are very careless and tend to forget to lock the door/windows; being passed out on the floor isn’t going to help either if thieves do decide to pay a visit.
Make it difficult for thieves to gain entry by ensuring all outside doors are fitted with a heavy duty fiver lever mortise deadlock. Fit all ground floor windows with small key operated locks and ensure that windows are dressed with curtains/blinds/nets so that it’s not easy to see inside. You can also use timer switches for lights and fake TV units (which make it look like the TV is on when it’s not) to give the impression the house is occupied. A burglar alarm and security lights outside the property also act as good deterrents.
If you feel that security isn’t up to par, politely request your landlord to look into it and remind him/her that it is also in their best interests to keep their property safe and secure. It’s also worth considering secure storage for more valuable belongings if you are leaving these during the holidays.
Don’t plan a night out without making adequate provision for getting back home safely. Pre-book a licenced taxi or find out where the taxi rank is from where you plan to be. Students’ unions usually have a list of recommended companies so it’s a good idea to save some numbers in your phone. You can also download apps like Uber and Minicabster which allow you to book and pay for taxis via your mobile phone so you don’t have to carry extra cash on you. If you do, remember to keep your taxi fare home separate from your spending money so you don’t accidentally spend it on food and drinks. If you need to get home but don’t have any money left then certain taxi companies will have arrangements with universities where you can get picked up from the union and pay them back later – a good option if you are drinking at the students’ union bar or close by.
If you are travelling on public transport and are alone, sit near the driver on a bus always sit in carriage with other passengers if you are on a train, the tube or metro. If you decide to walk home then try and do so with a group of people and be extra vigilant by looking around you often. Avoid walking through poorly lit areas at night such as parks and alleyways and never use your phone torch to light the way in the dark, as it just makes you more of a target for unscrupulous characters. Also, don’t stay stuck to your mobile phone as it makes you unware of your surroundings and it will be difficult to react to a bad situation quickly.
KEEP OTHERS INFORMED
Always plan where you are going beforehand and let a responsible friend or relative know where you are going, who you are going with and when you expect to be back. If plans change then be sure to inform the relevant people so that they aren’t unnecessarily worrying about you but also, if anything bad happens they will have the most up to date information to give to the police. Apps such as Glympse track your location so that others can see where you are at all times. Glympse does drain your battery so you can just turn it on before you start making your way home so your journey can be tracked easily.
WATCH ALCOHOL INTAKE
Being intoxicated is an easy way to lose your wits and your belongings in the process. Your personal safety is also at risk as you are also far more likely to do something dangerous when you are under the influence. The best advice to follow is to limit your intake and stop before you get drunk – you will know what your limits are. Don’t give in to peer-pressure or the expectation that you need to drink more just because you are a student. Try not to drink on an empty stomach and also keep hydrated with water which also helps to not get drunk so quickly. Be careful not to leave your drink unattended and never accept drinks from people you don’t know as drinks can get spiked.
In the UK we are limited by law as to what we can carry on our person for self-defence. Knives, weapons and pepper spray are all illegal but there are some useful items you can use:
Criminal Identifier Self-Defence Spray: This works by emitting bright red dye when it is sprayed and can stop an attacker in his/her tracks by catching them off guard and blurring their vision. It also colours their skin bright red for many days making it easy for the police to identify them if they get caught. It does not contain tear gas, pepper spray or any other noxious substances so it is perfectly legal to carry in the UK. You can purchase it from here.
Personal Alarms: These emit a very high pitched alarm which alerts people around you and is usually enough to scare off any attacker.
Carrying these aids with you at all times is a good idea and will help you feel more at ease knowing that you may be able to fend off any attacker with their use. Traditionally, these items are considered to be more for female use than male use but crime figures prove that male students are more likely to be attacked in the street than female students.
Learning self-defence and martial arts is also highly recommended as knowing how to defend yourself and neutralizing an attack can save your life. Sometimes you may not have safety aids on your person or easy access to them so self-defence is the next best thing.
Students are often targeted by burglars as they have expensive gadgets and are not really known for being security conscious, especially if they are drunk. A good way to protect yourself from mishaps if they do happen is by getting adequate insurance for your mobile phone, laptop and other expensive belongings. Check your student bank account as many banks include perks like phone insurance when you open an account with them. Keep a copy of your insurance details in a safe place.
MARKING & REGISTERING PROPERTY
Marking Your Valuables
As soon as you purchase something expensive which can be easily stolen – such as a mobile phone, tablet, laptop, handbag or bicycle then immediately mark the item using property marking products – such as a UV pen, MicroDot System or barcode tags. There are a number of different items available but they all act in the same way – which is to deter burglars from stealing your possessions and repatriating items to you once they have been recovered by the police. You can purchase a variety of marking solutions from www.immobilise.com
Registering Your Belongings
You may never have even heard of it, but the website www.immoblise.com is the largest free register of personal belongings in the world.It is used as a tool along with other sites to reduce crime and return lost and stolen belongings to their rightful owners. Anyone from students to business owners can use the site to register valuable possessions and assets. It’s the only service of its kind that is supported by all UK police forces and the mobile phone industry as well as insurance companies and the used goods trade (to check if items have been stolen prior to purchase). Full details on how to register your mobile phone can be found here
If your phone does go missing, make sure you remember to contact your network provider as soon as possible to report the loss so they can block the phone. This means that nobody else will be able to use the phone even if a new sim card is put into it. Most providers have a £100 liability limit which basically means that you will only have to pay £100 towards a replacement handset if you report it lost/stolen within 24 hours.
Remember to do the same if you lose your credit/debit cards. Get in touch with your bank and credit card company as soon as possible so that they can block your card and prevent it from being misused.
Many people don’t think about security when they are on the internet but there are plenty of scams online that are netting fraudsters millions every year. Cybercrime is also more difficult to police so if you do get conned, it’s harder for you to get your money back.
Shopping online -Look for the padlock or unbroken key icon on websites which shows the site is secure when taking personal information and card details. Websites that have ‘https’ have a security certificate and use encryption to store card details – which means those details can’t be copied/stolen and it’s safe to proceed with a transaction. If however, you don’t see the final‘s’ when you come to the checkout, abort the transaction immediately as it means the site is not secure.
You can also download free security software such as Rapport by IBM which helps to keep your personal information safe online and also protects your card details when you are shopping. It also shields your online banking details which is why many banks prompt you to download the software when you log on to digital banking. Credit scoring sites such as Experian offer services that monitor your details online and alert you to any irregularities for a small fee.
Phishing Emails – We’ve probably all received fake emails from scammers in different parts of the world asking us for our bank account details so that they can deposit $10 million from their grandmother’s inheritance – and laughed them off but sometimes fraudsters are far more subtle in asking you for sensitive information. Beware of clicking links from emails asking you to verify your account, especially if you have not set up a new account recently. Phishing emails from fake PayPal emails are extremely commonplace so be extra careful with them.
Dating Sites – Staying safe online is not just about protecting your financial details; your personal safety can also be compromised if you are use dating sites and meet up with potentials on a night out. When meeting someone new, always let your housemates and a trusted friend know where you are going and what time you plan to be back. Set up Glympse (location tracker) on your phone and activate it on your way back home so your friends can check where you are and what time your ETA is.
Bike – Popular amongst students as a cheap way to travel, bikes are often targeted by thieves. Universities have bicycle racks outside faculty buildings so lock your bike on those with a solid, tamper proof lock. In other places, make sure you leave your bike somewhere public and locked to something which cannot be moved. If you keep your bike in the garage or university halls then follow the same principle of securing it with a lock. As an added security measure, take a photo of your bike (including the number on the frame), mark it with a UV pen or Microdots and register it on www.immobiise.com
Car – Choose parking locations carefully – don’t leave your car in the middle of nowhere and in poorly lit areas which also compromises your personal safety. Remove all valuables from sight and use a steering lock to secure your car.
Identity theft is on the rise in the UK and as a student moving from property to property, you are more vulnerable to being targeted.
Keep these tips in mind to prevent your identity from being stolen:
- Keep an eye on your post and put it somewhere safe as soon as it comes through the letterbox. You won’t know all of your housemates’ friends who might visit and with strangers in the property you can’t be too careful. Set up post re-direct services once you have vacated a property for at least 3 months which will give you enough time to inform your bank, credit card company, GP surgery and other places of your new address details.
- Keep valuable documents like your passport and driving license in a lockable container hidden in your room. Make photocopies of your documents and save the scanned images in your email or cloud based storage account.
- Never give out sensitive information such as security passwords, PIN numbers and bank account details to anyone.Destroy expired bank cards by cutting through the chip and magnetic strip and contact your bank/credit card company as soon as possible if you lose your card.
- Shred or burn papers carrying bank details and other sensitive information and move to paperless statements with every account you hold.
GENERAL SAFETY TIPS
Cash machines – Always check a cash machine for any signs of meddling before using it. When entering your pin number, cover the keypad with your other hand so nobody can see it and be cautious of anyone standing too close to you. If you need cash then plan ahead and withdraw money during the daytime wherever possible.
Restaurants – When eating out with friends, don’t let your guard down – particularly if you are having a few drinks with your meal. Keep your handbag in a safe place where you can see it at all times (it can be stolen from under the table so put it in between your ankles). When paying for your meal, don’t allow the waiter to take your card away as it can easily be cloned.
Mobile phone – Ensure that your mobile is sufficiently charged when you leave the house. It might be worth investing in a power pack for days you will be out of the house for an extended period of time.
Bonus tip: Add the contact number of a trustworthy friend or relative and save it under ICE (In Case of Emergency) in your phone. If anything untowards happens, the police will know who to contact in case of an emergency.
Gadgets – If you are working late at libraries and IT centres be careful when leaving such facilities in the dark. Carry your laptop in a sports bag or even a strong plastic carrier bag from Tesco so it doesn’t look obvious as to what is inside.
Check Everything – Double – even triple – check things like locking car and house windows and doors, turning electrical items like the iron, hair straighteners and the cooker off and investigating any suspicious sounds around your property (take a housemate with you).
Remember, all it takes is a few simple precautions which don’t cost much time and money to safeguard yourself and your belongings leaving you to enjoy your time at university. We hope you found this guide helpful and hope that will share it with your university friends so they too can benefit from it.