Protecting Your Identity

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

If more consumers made this their mantra when faced with financial decisions, there would be very few successful scams and rip-offs in this world. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Thanks to the Internet and quick and easy banking options, fraud and scams have been increasing exponentially around the globe in recent years.

Scams and Rip-Offs

Here is a list of various types of scammers, with descriptions of what they attempt to do, as well as a few basics suggestions to help you avoid becoming their latest victim:

Pickpockets take your wallet or purse, not just for the money it may contain but to use credit cards and to steal your identity.
Tip: Minimize the credit cards and ID cards you carry on your person. NEVER keep your social security card in your purse or wallet.

Dumpster Divers rummage through outdoor trash bins to collect account numbers from bank and credit card statements, as well as any other personally identifying information they could use to open new accounts.
Tip: A good paper shredder is your best friend.

Shoulder Surfers spy on you at ATM machines and cashier stands to steal the PIN to your debit, ATM, or credit card.
Tip: Make sure others are not standing too close to you when you enter your PIN. Consider covering the keypad with your free hand. Never leave receipts in the machine or in the trash.

Skimmers use hand-held card readers to steal credit card data at stores, shops or restaurants.
Tip: Keep an eye on your card and on the cashier or server. Paying with cash is one sure way to avoid your credit card information being stolen.

Phishing Freaks call or send emails using some pretext to ask for your account information. Whether it’s to “confirm” your account information or to “notify you” that you’ve been approved for a credit limit increase, these scammers are good at getting us to divulge vital financial and identifying information.
Tip: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER give information about your credit card, bank account, social security, driver’s license or any other such records to someone who contacts you. Even if they already know your credit card number, that doesn’t mean they are actually from your credit card company. Always ask for their name and offer to call them back through the company’s customer service department.

Hackers get your information by monitoring your transactions with unsecured sites on the Internet.
Tip: Make sure that any site asking for credit card or bank account information is secured. There are two ways of knowing that you are on a secured site. First, if the site’s URL (the address usually found at the top of your browser) starts with https (and not just http), than the “s” indicates it’s a secure page. Otherwise, look for a small “lock” icon at the bottom of your browser, next to the Internet icon of the world. The icon looks like a pad lock or key lock. If both the secure URL and the secure icon are missing, do not submit any financial or personal information to the web site.

Flaggers steal your mail, looking for bank and credit card checks, statements and even credit card offers to use. They can “wash” your ink form outgoing checks and then rewrite their own information to cash in. They can also use card offers to open of accounts with your personal information but at another address.
Tip: NEVER put checks in your mailbox unless it can be locked. Putting the red flag up can literally an indication to these scammers to take what’s in your mailbox. If you don’t have a locking mailbox, drop your outgoing mail in a US Postal Service blue mailbox. Or, better yet, make your payments online directly with the creditor (just read the Hackers paragraph above first).

Directors complete and submit a change-of-address form with the US Postal Service to redirect your mail or their bills.
Tip: If you notice that bills are missing, check with your creditor to verify the address. Notify your local post office if you suspect that your mail has been fraudulently redirected.

Posers introduce themselves to you (at the door, online or otherwise) as your landlord or someone else who has lawful right to certain information or even to enter your home.
Tip: If you don’t know them, don’t let them in, especially if their visit is unexpected. You should certainly never give personal or financial information to someone knocking at your door or chatting with you online. Call their main office to confirm what they are saying. If you’re still uncertain, ask them to set an appointment and take the time to investigate their claims.

Insiders buy information from an inside source or get it from your personnel records at work.
Tip: While you can’t do much about preventing many types of insiders, you can minimize the possibility of being one of their victims. Many “insiders” turn out to be neighbors or even family members. Don’t leave financial information in places where visitors or family members may easily find it. There is a disturbing and growing trend of both parents and adolescent or young adult children using the personal information of family members to open credit cards and other accounts for their own personal use.


Check your credit report regularly by visiting every four months or so to get a free, no-strings-attached credit report from one of the three main nationwide credit bureaus. Dispute directly with the credit bureau any item that you don’t recognize or that may be in error.

If you become a victim of identity theft, see the Federal Trade Commission’s site on fighting back at

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