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How to Prevent Identity Theft and E-mail Scams

Written by Laura Martinez - 9 Comments

While fraud and identity theft have been around for years, it’s easier than ever for scammers to gain access to your personal information. While there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself with 100% certainty, there are some precautionary steps that you can take to protect your identity and finances.

In this article, I’ve compiled a few general suggestions for protecting your personal information as well as some tips for avoiding e-mail scams.

Protecting your personal information

Be cautious with your personal documents. Keep your driver’s license, bank statements, credit and debit cards, checkbooks, etc. in a safe place. Beyond this, don’t carry your birth certificate, social security card, or passport in your purse or wallet unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Shred sensitive documents. Identity thieves have been known to go through garbage to get information about their targets, so be sure there’s nothing for them to find. Take care to shred not only financial statements, but also credit card offers, paycheck stubs, etc.

Don’t give out personal identification unless you have to. Please be careful with who you share your Social Security number with. Don’t be afraid to ask why it’s necessary to provide your Social Security number. Some doctors request your Social Security number for their records but you can often get away without providing it.

Be careful at the ATM. You can never be too careful. People in the vicinity of the ATM may be on the prowl for victims, and might be able to see your PIN over your shoulder. Beyond this, scammers have been known to modify ATMs to skim your account numbers. If something seems amiss, trust your instincts and move on.

Don’t carry passwords or login information with you. Either memorize this information or store it in an encrypted file on your computer. This makes it significantly harder for an identity thief to get their hands on your data.

Avoiding e-mail scams

Another common way for scammers to get their hands on your info is via e-mail. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Here are some common e-mails scams to be on the lookout for when checking your inbox.

Standard phising schemes. Scammers often pose as financial institutions and send messages alerting you to possible account tampering, etc. They then go on to direct you to a website to change your login credentials to protect yourself. The bad news is that the site that they send you to is fake, and you wind up providing them with everything they need to gain access to your accounts. Never click a link and hand over your information, no matter how real the e-mail looks. When in doubt, call the institution or manually type their web address into your browser.

Work from home schemes. These scams are often presented as opportunities to make a lot of money with little time and a “small cash investment.” You buy some sort of kit from the scammer and you either never hear from them, or your work get rejected for not meeting their standards.

Stimulus check scams. Many people have been contacted by individuals posing as the IRS or another governmental agency who ask for banking information so they can receive their stimulus check. If you receive something like this, please ignore it. The 2008 stimulus checks were sent out automatically, and there won’t be a second stimulus check. Instead, you’ll see a little more money in your paychecks due to reduced withholding.

Credit repair scams. In this case, scammers offer to miraculously remove negative information from your credit report. This is especially dangerous as they almost always ask for your Social Security number. Believe it or not, you can fix errors on your credit report yourself, so don’t get taken in.

Contest prize scams. You may get an e-mail claiming that you have won some money from a contest, and that you simply need to send in a “small processing fee” to claim it. Guess what? You’ll pay your money and never here from them again. Ignore these e-mails.

Of course, the ways in which identity thieves and other scammers work are constantly evolving. Thus, you need to be vigilant about guarding your personal data. And even if you’ve fallen victim to one of these scams in the past, you shouldn’t blame yourself. Instead, focus on getting your life and finances back in order.

As always, if you have any tips, stories, or questions, please leave a comment below. And please don’t hesitate to share this information with friends or family members.

Published on April 8th, 2009
Modified on April 19th, 2009 - 9 Comments
Filed under: Identity Theft

About the author: helps families achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt and building freelance income over at Couple Money.

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9 Responses to “How to Prevent Identity Theft and E-mail Scams”

  1. 1
    Baker @ ManVsDebt Says:

    Laura,

    Interesting post!

    You bring up some great points that I blatantly forgot. I especially enjoyed how you went into detail on the specific types of e-mail fraud. It is so important that people are exposed to this before they encounter the actual fraud in their inbox.

    Keep up the great work!

  2. 2
    DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad Says:

    Great, great post! I will be including it in my weekly Noteworthy Blogs Posts at the end of the week.

    People need to be guarded all the time– there are so many pitfalls and scams out there . . .

  3. 3
    wally Says:

    As someone who follow all of this advice and does not use any ATM other than the one at my local bank branch but still got skimmed at that ATM, my other advice is to constantly check all your accounts. If I didn’t check my bank account (also credit card) at least every other day I wouldn’t have caught this until after many other checks/direct pays bounced and then I would have been in huge trouble. Thankfully I caught it (so did the bank’s credit card company, but I contacted them, they never contacted me) and made sure I went to the bank right away and got everything squared away. As careful as you can be, crooks are still crooks and you have to be your own best advocate.

  4. 4
    Laura Says:

    @Baker Thanks for the feedback.We all need reminders since new scams come up.

    @DDFD: I appreciate the support! I hope you’re doing well.

    @wally: Great point on being your own advocate. I’m sorry you had to go through the hassle. That’s sad the credit card company never called you.

  5. 5
    Kyle O'Connor Says:

    Another one to look out for are the weight loss and government grant schemes, where they advertise a $5 trial, but in the small print you’re actually getting billed $80 per month with no way to cancel. Starting to see a lot of those in emails.

  6. 6
    craig Says:

    Don’t even read the email scams. If you look at it and delete it right away, you are not allowing your brain to even consider making a decision based off of it.

  7. 7
    Chris Says:

    Tip: Setup unused credit card/bank accounts for automatic notification of any charges. Its free and you can catch fraud as it happens.

  8. 8
    RAJEEV KUMAR SINGH Says:

    Great article… Really nice to see that you have covered all this in detail.. I think one needs to be specially careful about scams on net these days.. we must also be careful of hackers on the loose trying to hack your credit card details while you try to transact on net. So be careful next time you buy something from ebay or amazon or while booking airticket for yourself.. You may use 2 card policy to minimise the risk.

  9. 9
    Laura Says:

    Everyone,

    Thanks for sharing all the extra tips. I hope everyone has a great and safe weekend.

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