Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck: How college students can protect their stuff

Claudia Buck
Claudia Buck

For students and young adults, living away from home means a lot of independence.

What they’re not thinking about: getting their laptop or cellphone ripped off, finding their car vandalized or having their dorm room or apartment broken into.

But it can happen.

“Student life is fast and they’re going through so many changes, the first time living away from home. Socializing is a great part of campus life ... but you can leave yourself and your property unprotected,” said Sgt. Bill Beermannof the UC Davis campus police department.

Being prepared for the worst can make it easier to cope, say campus security and insurance experts.

Renters insurance

Parents should have a conversation with their insurance broker to see if their student is covered under the family’s homeowners policy, insurance experts say. Some policies will cover their student’s belongings away from home; others won’t.

“As long as a student is still a resident of the household, when they’re away at college, a standard homeowners policy will provide some basic coverage,” but not always, said Scott Yuill, a State Farm insurance agent in Rocklin.

Yuill said parents might want to get a separate renters policy if their student has, say, an expensive musical instrument, electronics, even costly textbooks for an engineering, science or architecture major.

In California, the state Department of Insurance says renters insurance policies can be had for as little as $15 to $30 a month. Some college campuses also offer student policies that cover contents in dorm rooms or off-campus housing. Compare your choices to make sure it’s the best price for your family.

For more details on renters’ insurance, go to: or call (800) 927-4357. Another source is National Student Services Inc., which specializes in insurance policies thata cover property losses for college students.

“It’s not uncommon for a young adult to have $20,000 worth of stuff,” including clothes, furniture, a TV, stereo and other technology,” Yuill said. “You can buy a lot of coverage – about $30,000 worth of personal property coverage for about $12 a month, the cost of a couple Starbucks drinks a month,” he noted.

When it comes to liability coverage – in case, say, a student hosts a party that goes awry – Yuill said parents should discuss with their insurance agent and attorney, if possible, whether they are adequately covered under an existing homeowners policy. He said the average renters policy includes up to $100,000 in liability coverage.

De-fense, de-fense

To avoid being a victim of theft or accidental damage, there are a number of preventive steps that students can take. Among them:

“Don’t keep your items in your car. Students tend to keep a lot of items sitting in their (vehicle),” which is inviting theft, said State Farm’s Yuill.

Don’t overload your electrical outlets. “Kids tend to have a lot of electronics ... and tend to overload the power strip,” he said, which could trigger a fire.

And no matter where you’re living, “Make sure you check your smoke alarms, replacing the batteries.”

Having an inventory of what you’ve crammed into that student dorm or apartment is a must, said Patrick Storm, spokesman for the California Department of Insurance. “Walk around the dorm and take pictures of what you own and upload to a cloud-based service,” like DropBox, iCloud or Google Drive, Storm said. “It’s now your inventory. Even if your phone is stolen, there’s still proof on the cloud,” he said.

Students who live in flood- or earthquake-prone regions might consider a separate insurance policy to cover potential damage that isn’t covered under homeowners or renters policies.

Storm, who recently toured the Napa earthquake site where contents of households were strewn about “like on an Etch-a-Sketch” pad, said the extra coverage for earthquakes or flooding could be worth it.

If your student lives in an earthquake-prone area, Storm suggests having them attach framed artwork and photos to the wall with earthquake putty and use earthquake strapping to secure their TV to the wall. After the recent 6.0 quake in Napa, he said, many of the hospital ER visits were for those who’d stepped on broken glass from mirrors, picture frames or televisions.

Storm also recommended that students mark their belongings, especially costly-to-replace electronics, musical instruments or bicycles. “Etch it or use some type of permanent marker” to add a name, phone number or serial number. Or it can be as simple as an identifiable symbol you could readily identify as yours, he said.

Get ’em registered, especially bikes

At bike-friendly UC Davis, it’s no surprise that bicycles are the No. 1 property theft, with about 1,500 stolen annually, Sgt. Beermann said. To help ensure a lost or stolen bike gets returned, he urges parents and students to register their bikes as soon as they arrive on campus.

For $10, students can get a bike license – good for three years – that enters the bike’s description and serial number into the campus database. The student is issued a campus ID sticker that goes onto the bike. If it’s lost or stolen and recovered by campus police, they’ll send an email to the student.

Last year, Beermann said, campus police found a bike that was stolen nine years ago – and were able to track down its long-graduated owner. “He was elated, happy and amazed it’d been found,” the campus police sergeant said.

“If we can get people into the routine of licensing their bikes, it’d be helpful for us being able to identify bikes. Ten dollars is really cheap insurance.”

Beermann said similar bike-licensing systems are in place at other universities, including most UC and California State Universitycampuses.

He also noted that if students report a bike – or any other personal property – stolen, it will be entered into the statewide California Department of Justice stolen-property database, making it easier for law enforcement to track down the rightful owner.

Lock it up

Locking a bike sounds obvious, although Beermann says he’s seen plenty of high-end bikes whose expensive lock sits unused on the handlebars, while the bike is left propped against a wall or otherwise unattended.

Aside from bicycles, he also recommends that students invest in a lock for their computer and other electronics. One of the easiest opportunities for thieves to steal laptops, iPads or tablets, Beermann said, is when they’re left unattended – even for a few minutes – in dorm rooms, cafes, even campus libraries.

Electronics locks have one end that fits into a computer security port; the other is wrapped around a chair or desk leg.

The best insurance, Beerman said, is to always keep your portable devices with you, even for a trip to the restroom.

“Six weeks of work in that computer, and if you didn’t back it up, it’s lost,” he said. “For a student, that’s more damaging than the cost of replacing the computer itself.”