Identity theft is a constant problem in our country. Someone recently told me about receiving an email, purportedly from Amazon, saying the individual’s account had been hacked. That person was instructed to clink on a link to rectify this problem, then was asked a few questions, including bank account information.

The next day, $20,000 of the individual’s savings account had been transferred to checking, and the crook was attempting to transfer this new balance out of the bank.

Two weeks ago, I received an email from a well-known local bank telling me I was having trouble with my account. I was instructed to chick a link to correct this problem. I did not comply with these instructions, because I do not have an account with this bank, so it was impossible to have this issue.

I received another email last week, telling me that things had been straightened out and I could now click on a link and give them my bank account number and the $5.5 million they promised would be deposited into my bank account from overseas. This is a version of a scam that has been circulating for years.

While these requests may appear to be coming from the identified company, there are a few telltale signs that they are not legitimate. First, the two that were sent to me had an email respond address that was gmail. Most large companies would have their corporate name as part of the email address.

Second, if you do not have an account with this company, you probably should delete immediately. It is not likely that someone you do not know wants to deposit millions of dollars into your account.

Do not click on links that you are not sure about because this is how they get malware into your computer. They can steal your information. Sometimes, they hijack your address book and send emails to your friends that appear to come from you, trying to scam them.

I have received emails claiming to be from Amazon about my account. If there is a problem, the worst that could happen is an order might be delayed. You usually have a credit card or two on file with Amazon to cover your purchase.

Sign into your account on the Amazon website to see whether there is a real issue. If so, check your credit card issuing company by calling it directly yourself. Do not click any links in an email. If you do not deal with a company, what difference does it make if your account is incorrect? You never opened one.

Several other popular scams involve email reported from Social Security or the Internal Revenue Service. These emails threaten to suspend your monthly check or send police to arrest you if you do not immediately respond.

No government agency will send you these emails. You will receive a series of snail-mail letters inquiring about a potential issue. Depending on the size after these letters, you may receive a telephone call. You must be careful even with a call, as there is software available that can make a telephone call appear on your caller ID as legitimate.

You will never be asked by any legitimate organization to pay with a prepaid credit card or other means. If you are a senior and something does not appear to be correct, ask one of your children to help you to investigate the problem. It is always easier to avoid these problems than it is to fix them.

Be careful and do not let someone take advantage of you.

Gary Boatman is a Monessen-based certified financial planner and the author of “Your Financial Compass: Safe passage through the turbulent waters of taxes, income planning and market volatility.”

To submit columns on financial planning or investing, email Rick Shrum at rshrum@observer-reporter.com.

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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