Believe it or not, not every case of identity theft comes from banks leaking private data or people losing their credit cards. There are still plenty of unscrupulous con men out there trying to fool you into giving them your information. The good, old-fashioned identity theft hoax is alive and well, and if you're not careful, you'll fall into one of the many traps these thieves have set out. Following are 7 of the most widespread and dangerous such traps to look out for.
1) ATM scams
Grabbing a quick $20 from the ATM machine is getting riskier every day. There are two main scams to look out for when it comes to ATM machines. The first is how privately operated, "no-name" ATM machines (ie, those not affiliated with major banks or financial instutitions) can actually record your private information as you key it in, after which they can use it for anything they want. The best advice here is to avoid using no-name ATMs when possible. The second scam is how people sometimes "stake out" by parking their car near ATM machines, trying to look innocent, but actually using spy/zoom cameras to zero in on people as they type their PIN number. Shield the keypad when keying in your PIN number so this can't happen to you!
2) Unscrupulous bank employees
If you have a bad feeling about a surly or suspicious bank employee, trust your judgment. Leave the bank and either come back later when another employee can assist you or try to complete your transaction from the ATM machine instead. It is a known fact that unscrupulous bank employees are fine with stealing people's information, and you don't want that to happen to you.
3) "Do Not Call" list impersonators
Paradoxically, the "Do Not Call" list has spawned a new generation of scammers to exploit the very list created to stop them. It is now common for scammers to call people pretending to be from the "Do Not Call" list, requesting personal information in order to "better protect you" from over the phone scams. Don't go along with it however, for this itself is a scam! The actual "Do Not Call" list will never request such information from you and anyone who does is lying.
4) Nigerian e-mail scams/fake lotteries
One of the more prevalent ID theft scams in this decade is the "Nigerian e-mail scam." That's where someone e-mails you pretending to be Nigerian (or any type of) royalty, claiming to have a huge cash prize that they can only smuggle out of the country by depositing into your bank account. Naturally, they need your bank account number and routing number to complete the transaction, and they'll give you a cut just for letting them use the account! Obviously, the old adage "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" applies. No one with any royal background or huge fortune would e-mail random strangers begging for help. So don't fall for it! Ditto for anyone claiming you won a lottery that you can claim if you hand over your account information.
5) Using debit cards over the phone
Many pizza places and take-out restaurants (to name a few establishments) now let customers pay via debit card over the phone by verbally telling them the card number. That's all well and good for convenience, but this places your card at the mercy of whomever took your order. Do you really trust Uncle Bob up the street, the local pizza delivery guy, with your debit card number? Maybe, maybe not, but you should at least think about it before making these types of transactions.
6) Imposter IRS agents
One of the more bold scams out there is the impersonation of IRS agents. Scam artists of this kind will actually call you or come to your door, claiming to be an IRS agent who needs your bank account information to "finalize your tax return" or other such nonsense. The savvier scammers will call you first, attempting to establish their credibility over the phone before meeting you in person so as to seem more official. Don't be fooled! Actual IRS agents will not operate this way, and you should contact the actual IRS if you are suspicious of people claiming to represent them.
7) Stolen checks
Many people are paying their bills online these days (a safe practice), but some still choose to mail checks and money orders from their personal mailboxes. This is okay, but you should know that people can and do steal these checks. Once in their posession, your checks can be used to gain further information about you and create all kinds of needless risk. To avoid this happening, start paying bills online or drop your checks in public mailboxes that cannot be tampered with.