Millions of Americans spend countless hours on the internet to watch videos, post updates, go shopping, check account balances, and chat with friends and family. Unfortunately, criminals called scammers target these online users to try to obtain sensitive information from them for illegal purposes.
Scammers often send messages to innocent online users and request their personally identifiable information (PII). A successful scammer can use carefully crafted messaging to convince their target that their intentions are good and their requests for PII are legitimate. They might obtain PII such as email addresses, passwords, home addresses, bank account numbers, and even social security numbers and use this information to commit identity fraud.
Knowing what to look out for can help you protect yourself from online scammers.
Common identity theft scams
- Phishing scams: These scams involve criminals that send fake messages that appear to be from a legitimate organization or company, asking you to click on a link to provide personal or financial information. In some sophisticated cases, just clicking on the link can provide the cybercriminal a way to hack into your information.
- Romance scams: These scams involve criminals who use fake online personas to convince victims to send money or provide personal information. This is a more long-term play where the cybercriminal will pretend to have a relationship with a victim until they can get what they are looking for once the victim lets their guard down.
Here are some examples that fall under phishing:
- Tech support scams: Cybercriminals pretend to be technical support personnel from a reputable company (like Netflix or Amazon) and trick victims into clicking a link to update their billing information or even installing malware or getting remote access to their computers or devices.
- Lottery and sweepstakes scams: Cybercriminals contact victims and tell them they have won a large sum of money in a lottery or sweepstakes but must pay a fee or provide personal information to claim the prize.
- Charity donation scams: Cybercriminals pretend to be representatives of a legitimate charity or non-profit organization and solicit donations from victims, but then keep the money for themselves.
- Investment scams: Cybercriminals promise high returns on investments with little or no risk, in exchange for your personal or financial information.
Where to look out for these scams
How to avoid common scams
- Stay Informed: Make sure you are aware of the actions you can take to protect yourself. Research and stay up to date with new information and products to avoid scams.
- Verify the source: Before taking any action, verify the legitimacy of the source of the message.
- For example, if you receive an email from a company asking you to click on a link, double-check the sender’s email address and compare it to the company’s official email address. Spam emails usually include numbers or symbols and are very lengthy.
- Do not give out personal information in an unsecure setting: Legitimate companies or organizations should not ask for sensitive information such as your Social Security Number or bank account details via email or text message.
- Manage your passwords: Use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts, and do not share them with anyone. Consider using Experian’s Password Manager to help you create strong passwords and store/remember them for you in a secure app.
- Software Updates: Install anti-virus software and keep your device software up to date. This can help protect your devices from malware that scammers may use to gain access to your personal information.
- Report suspicious activity: If you suspect that you have been targeted by a scam, report it. Most products allow you to mark your emails or text messages as spam. You can even report to the relevant authorities, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Remember: Always be cautious and skeptical of unsolicited messages or offers, especially if they seem too good to be true or use fear tactics to pressure you into taking immediate action.
This year, the FTC has already received 5.7 million total fraud and identity theft reports, 1.4 million of which were identity theft cases. If you know what to look out for, you can protect yourself from falling victim to an identity theft scam.
 IdentityTheft.org. 2023 Identity Theft Facts and Statistics. https://identitytheft.org/statistics/
This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal issues or financial issues involved with credit decisions.