As an identity theft lawyer, I have heard accounts from individuals who fall prey to various scams. One of the most widely-spread scams plays out similarly to this: Imagine that you are at home, and a stranger comes to your door. The stranger says that you’ve been chosen, and asks for you to immediately provide your bank account information so that he can wire millions of dollars to your account that same day, for safekeeping. Would you do it?
Free money offers can be tempting, but I don’t know anyone who would say yes to this scenario. However, there are a growing number of consumers who receive emails and faxes with similar requests, to which the consumers provide their bank account and other personal information.
The result is stolen money and stolen identity. It’s one of those “too good to be true” situations; Your friend is not stranded in a foreign country and just sending you an email to wire money. A foreign dignitary in Ghana did not randomly find you and choose you as the trustworthy individual thousands of miles away to entrust with millions of dollars.
Here are some quick questions to ask yourself, before replying to the email:
1. Does the scenario sound legitimate?
2. Do you know the sender? If so, does the email sound like an email they would send?
3. Does the email contain poor use of the English language?
4. Are they asking for personal information or money? You should never email or text bank account numbers, social security numbers, passwords, or other sensitive information.
5. Are they stating that you must submit the information immediately? If it’s a time-sensitive offer, if your “friend” has to receive the money by a certain time, it is most likely a scam.
6. Prior to this email, have you had contact or communication with the sender or the sender’s company? Ask yourself how they received your contact information. If you can not determine that, it’s most likely a scam. Legitimate companies will state in the body of the email or in the footer why you are receiving this email and where they are located.
7. Does the email request that you send money or information outside of the U.S.? Much of this electronic identity theft is happening in foreign countries.
If you suspect the email is a scam, hit delete. Do not reply.
If you find yourself a victim of one of these scams, you are not alone. The con artists pursue this low-cost tactic because of that very reason: there is little expense on their end to send an email, and the payouts can be great when consumers reply with financial information.
It is imperative that you pull your credit reports immediately — www.annualcreditreport.com is a trusted website where you are entitled to one free credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies every year. If you find that your identity has been stolen – if accounts that do not belong to you have been opened up in your name, etc. – contact an identity theft lawyer today.
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Stephanie Tatar is the founding attorney of both Consumer Lawyer Network and The Tatar Law Firm. Ms. Tatar has been a consumer advocate since graduating cum laude from DePaul University, College of Law. During her career, she has fought debt collectors, credit reporting agencies, creditors, manufacturers and car dealers, achieving success at every level. Ms. Tatar is a member of the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and is admitted to practice in various federal and state courts, including California and Illinois.