Would you hand someone your credit card and tell them to go have a shopping spree, your treat? No. But you may as well be doing that if you don’t take some precautions with your identity. Fraudsters are watching you, and they’ll jump at the chance to steal your bank account number, Social Security number, and anything else they can exploit for personal financial benefit, not caring about the damage their victims may face.
If you really want to hand over your identity, here are five fast ways to do it.
1. Reply to E-mail Scams
You know the ones: “Dear Friend, In order to claim your inheritance of $18,000,000, you must open a bank account where the funds can be deposited…” or “You’ve just won the lottery! Send us the processing fee to claim your millions in cash!”
If you want to lose your money and deliver your financial information to these scammers, go ahead and reply to e-mails like these. Once scammers know you’re interested, they will stop at nothing – including threats, sweet talk, and pleading – to get your money. If you’d rather hang onto your hard-earned cash, delete these e-mails and go about your business.
2. Take the Phisher’s Bait
Phishing is another e-mail scam, only not as obvious as the ones described above. Phishers cast out a line and hope to hook gullible victims. They do this by sending out official-sounding e-mails that seem to be from banks, payment processors, or auction web sites. PayPal, Ebay, and the IRS are frequent targets, but scammers are constantly broadening their bases. The ruse is usually the same: the e-mails warn you of a security threat or other change to your account, and ask you to verify your personal information in order to reset your password, etc.
To lose your identity to this scam, all you have to do is click the links provided in the e-mails. They will take you to a login page that isn’t the least bit official, even though it looks like the real thing. You’ll be asked to verify account details like your PIN, Social Security Number, and date of birth – everything a clever scammer needs to pretend to be you. On the other hand, you could report these e-mails to the institutions that got spoofed. That way, you’ll be saving your own money, and quite possibly other people’s as well.
3. Give Out Personal Information Over the Phone
Identity theft has blossomed on the Internet, but it’s not limited to cyberspace. What would you do if you got a phone call from the IRS? They’re having trouble processing your tax return and just need to verify your Social Security number and date of birth. That sounds legitimate, right?
Wrong. These types of calls are made by scammers who claim to represent government agencies, charities, or your own bank. Give them everything they ask for if you want to lose big. Otherwise, record the number and the name of the caller. Then hang up and call the company or charity’s official line. Ask them if the call was legitimate. If it turns out to be a scam, you can report the number that the thief was calling from.
4. Toss Out Your Junk Mail Without Shredding It
We’ve all received those pre-screened offers for credit cards, car loans, and other nonsense. Many people become desensitized to these offers and just toss them into the trash can fully intact. That’s just what thieves are hoping you’ll do.
These offers usually contain your personal information, including phone numbers you can call to apply for your pre-approved credit cards. Some even contain actual cards which require nothing more than a phone call to activate. If you’re feeling generous, throw away these offers without shredding them first. The thieves who use your identity to apply for cards of their own will be most grateful. Or you could make sure that such letters are unreadable before you put them out for the dumpster-divers.
5. Don’t Pay Attention to Your Finances
Identity thieves bank on the apathy or negligence of their victims. They know that some people don’t regularly check their bank account or credit card statements. Days, weeks, or months of unauthorized charges could add up before the victim takes notice. Some thieves even make a large number of small charges rather than a few big ones. This technique prevents those pesky fraud alerts from interfering with their shopping spree on your coin.
To play right into their hands, never monitor your credit cards. Just let them sit for long stretches of time. Don’t even look at your account statements until it’s time to pay up. Then you’ll have a big surprise or, more likely, several surprises. It’s almost like Christmas, but not as enjoyable.
If you’d prefer to keep your money to yourself, check your balances often. Report any fishy transactions immediately. The bank or credit card company will stop further charges from being made. You can also contact Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion and tell them about the identity theft. Whichever credit bureau you call, they’ll alert the others and prevent thieves from taking out loans in your name.
Identity theft is a very real threat, but it’s also largely preventable. Make the right decisions to keep your identity where it belongs – with you.