3 Clever Identity Theft E-mail Tricks

id1Identity theft scammers get more and move clever every year. What used to be obviously fake e-mails and laughably bogus questions from prospective “customers” have now evolved into devilishly sneaky methods to harvest your personal information and tap your bank account.

Unlike the exotic romanticism of so-called “hackers” portrayed in movies, most of the online scams rely on posing as a trusted figure of authority who gets you to spill your own beans by asking a few simple questions. They call this human, or “social engineering.”

The solution here is NOT to stop using online services like Craigslist, Paypal, and eBay… but rather to look out for a few simple tell-tale signs that something’s not quite right.

In poker, professional gamblers are always on the prowl for “tells” – subtle indicators of true intention from the lesser mortals surrounding the table. To successfully do business online with safety and security, you too must become one of the pros.

It’s not hard. In fact, it’s really quite easy once you know what to look for.

Scam #1. Real Real Estate, Fake Listing

Let’s say you find a house or apartment on Craigslist. It looks promising enough – good neighborhood, cheap price, and with all kinds of enticing extras. When you write in to ask about it, the owner or landlord sends you back a request for some personal information so they can run a credit check.

That’s all fine and good, right? After all, it’s only natural for landlords and owners to do their due dilligence on a prospective buyer or renter.

Yes, except… that sort of thing should be done in person, and never over e-mail. Often, these sorts of e-mail requests are from identity theft scammers who run fake listings on real property and add a bunch of mouth-watering details to bait the hook.

Another variation on this is when you see a real estate listing with no specific address – only a vague description of the property and general location. When you write in on these, the “landlord” will ask for a credit report before they even let you see the property.

What’s that you say? You say you don’t have a credit report on hand? No problem, your jolly ol’ scammer will be happy to provide you with a link to get a “free” one. Of course, this is a link to a company that actually does offer a free credit report… but with an expensive credit monitoring service attached to the backend. They’ll wring your wallet dry and you’ll still be left without the new home you wanted in the first place.

(By the way, the only real place online to get a true, honest-to-God free credit report from each of the 3 big reporting agencies is called AnnualCreditReport.com – they’re ordered by government mandate to give you a free credit report once per year. Experian, Equifax, and Transunion all participate in this program.)

Scam #2. Fake Question From A Buyer

You may have gotten one of these if you’ve ever sold anything on Craigslist or eBay.

Basically what happens is you get an e-mail from someone who’s either asking if your “item” is “still available” or they’re hot to buy it right now and wanting to send you payment sight unseen.

The key word in the first one is “item” – because a real prospect would never call your product an “item” they would say the actual name or use slang. These messages are generally short – one or two sentences at the most – and it’s best to not reply at all. If you do, be prepared for a tidal wave of spam.

If they’re a little too eager to buy and want to pay right now via “cashiers check” or my personal favorite “bank draft”… then it’s a scam. When you reply, what they’ll want to do next is send you a fake check for more than the thing is worth and then want you to mail some 3rd party the difference. And they’ll have some dumb story as to why it’s gotta be done this way.

Save yourself some hassle and just hit delete.

Scam #3. Fake Security Notice From Your Bank

What scammers do with these is send out a ton of e-mails pretending to be from financial institutions like PayPal, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, etc. One time I even got one from some Mexican “Commercia Bank” – ha!

They don’t actually know if any one particular person on their list has an account at any of these places; they just bank on the fact that out of a list of tens of thousands to millions, they’ll hit the nail on the head more often than not. To them it’s a numbers game, pure and simple.

These sorts of e-mail scams and others like them are called “phishing” – a nasty little word that evolved from the phrase “fishing for your personal information” or as I like to say “fishing for suckers.” Don’t you fall for it.

It may seem corny to talk about, but a lot of these e-mails are written well and look pretty convincing. Here’s what to look for in an e-mail to know whether it’s “real” or not.

Check #1. Look at the e-mail address the message supposedly came from. Most of the phishers out there open up free accounts at Google, Hotmail, or Yahoo with nonsensical names. Look at the name before the @gmail.com or whatever and ask yourself if it makes sense. If it’s just a jumble of letters, watch out.

Check #2. Is the person oddly vague in the e-mail when asking you questions or making statements? Do they use language that seems a bit outdated or “too proper” for someone who’s supposed to live in your area? I remember getting a phishing message one time that said something like “Sir, kindly let me know if the item is still available.” I mean c’mon, real people just don’t talk like that. Language like that is a sure sign it’s some idiot in Nigeria trying to rob you from afar.

Check #3. Watch out for links in the e-mail. If any of the above 2 checks raise suspicions, you should never click the link. But if it seems legit, try hovering your mouse pointer over the link and look down at the bottom of your window to see where the link leads. Look at the web address printed there and see if it looks suspicious. Is it a jumbled mess of letters and numbers? Is it a .info, .biz, or some other less common type of domain name? Is it a particularly long link with lots of letters a numbers? Does it appear to lead where they say it does?

Check #4. If all else checks out and you’re STILL suspicious, then you might have a real deal on your hands. But just to be sure, you can always look at the e-mail headers and trace the e-mail back to its origin. Explaining how to do that will take up too much space here, so I’ll write a new post soon on how to do that.

Until then, be safe.

And if you’re really serious about safeguarding your privacy and hiding your money, check out “The Perfect Privacy Solution” by Joe Decameron. It’s a blackbelt-level course that shows you how to live in complete privacy without sacrificing a comfortable lifestyle.

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