October is Cyber Security Awareness Month.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Every week I receive an email with some attempt to steal my identity.

Just today I received one that thanks me from renewing my service contract from one of the biggest appliance retailers in the country. It stated that my credit card had been charged $489.99 for three more years of service.

I have never had a service contract with this company.

The goal of the email was to get me to call the telephone number in it to tell them to refund my non-existent purchase. They would have tried to con me into giving them some information that they could use to scam me for real.

I did not call; I simply deleted the email.

These scammers make logos and everything else in them look very legitimate. While this scam was not sent from a Gmail account it also did not come from the company it was claiming to be. This can often tip you off.

Every other week I receive a similar email from a virus protection software company that I do not use telling they are renewing my subscription. It works the same way and it is usually a Gmail address. You are told that you are being charged hundreds of dollars.

Do not respond.

These thieves are very good at stealing info once you make contact with them. If some charge does show up on your credit card, dispute the charge and you can handle the issue directly with your card issuer.

When purchasing online, use a credit card and not your debit card. While both often offer similar protection from fraudulent purchases, when using the debit card, it could be your money tied up during resolution instead of the banks.

Another popular scam is getting a fake email that is supposedly coming from Social Security.

It will claim that your benefit is being taken away from you because of some fraud. These crooks know how important your SS check is and you might call and give some information because you are afraid you may not be able to pay your bills.

First, if SS thought you were committing some kind of fraud, they probably would not give you advanced knowledge of it. No government agencies communicate with people by email, including SS. If there is a problem with your account, they will send you a letter detailing any concerns.

Preventing identity theft requires you to be vigilant. Be careful what information you share, and never give your SS number to someone who calls you.

Government entities, banks and insurance companies already know your information. If you make the call, you may be required to provide it to prove who you are. If you get a request for information from a source you are not sure about, ask one of your children or trusted friends what they think. If you do business with the party involved, call them directly to see if there is an issue.

You are the last line of defense in protecting your identity. Don’t panic if you get a questionable request. It is often better to delete the link than to click on it.

Your Financial Future is written by certified financial planner Gary W. Boatman, MBA and CFP, who also wrote the book, “Your Financial Compass: Safe Passage Through The Turbulent Waters of Taxes, Income Planning and Market Volatility.” If there is an area that you would like to see discussed in the column, send your suggestions to gary@BoatmanWealthManagement.com.

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