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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.