How the Credit Card Hacks Impact You

And Why It's Not a Big Deal if You're Careful

By Remar Sutton
Founder of the Privacy Rights Now Coalition

You've heard about the hacks and theft of personal and financial information of millions of Americans, right? Data thefts seem to be happening all the time.

But get this: even if your own personal data hasn't been stolen, data thefts may put you at risk. Why? The criminals who end up with stolen email addresses and phone numbers use that information to reach out and try to scam the victims' friends.

You don't need to stress over all this. But you do need to take a few steps to protect yourself. The following tips can help. Start by watching out for these scams:

Scams that impersonate companies you deal with regularly.

How do the scammers know what companies you deal with? Normally they make an educated guess. If a particular financial institution is big in a city, the scammers buy lists of email addresses of people in nearby zip codes.

Scammers also buy lists of a company's customers in specific zip codes or cities. That's probably what's happening right now with the millions of hacked customer files. The scammers visit one of the websites maintained by criminals (there are dozens) and choose what stolen information they would like to buy. These sites at times match up data from a recent hack with other data already in their database.

Any company can be impersonated. Scammers can pretend they are virtually any company: the telephone company, a financial institution, overnight delivery services, online movie services or even individual stores.

Virtually all of the scams involving companies you know have these themes:

  • Your account may have been compromised. You know—an evil scammer has stolen your information! That's for sure. Trouble is, the scammer is doing the talking!

  • The very expensive item you've ordered has just been shipped and you must confirm you have received it. Of course, you didn't order the item.

  • Your information needs to be updated. And if you don't update it immediately, your account will be closed.

  • You must respond or the problem will be turned over to a collection agency or the authorities. You've done nothing wrong and rush to correct the problem.

How the scammers contact you:

  • The email scam: you receive an email, supposedly from a company you deal with, asking you to confirm your personal or account information. Legitimate companies—including the credit union—will not ask you to send personal or confidential information in an email.

  • The mail scam: you receive a letter, supposedly from a company you know, asking you to go to a website or call a number to confirm your personal or account information. Don't use the contact information in the letter. But do contact the company using your normal contact info.

  • The phone scam: you receive a phone call, supposedly from a company you deal with, asking you to confirm your personal or financial information. Even if the person says they are from the credit union or from your credit card company, don't give the information. Hang up and call your regular number.

  • Popups on your computer: you're visiting a website and a popup, supposedly from a company you deal with, says your account at the institution has been compromised. The popup wants your personal data. Forget it. Legitimate companies don't use random popups to gather information.

Web and television scams:

  • The web is chockablock with websites created by scammers posing as security services to keep you from being scammed! Watch out for random emails with links to scam protection websites and don't click on random websites offering protection.

  • Late night television ads: if you think all media companies always check the legitimacy of their advertisers, think again. You're half-asleep, when an ad announces a new website which can tell you if you've been hacked. To find out, you of course have to give your social security number and other person information. Bingo, you've just been hacked.

Scammers posing as a person you know: impersonating a person's friends has become a wildly popular scam technique. Why? We fall for the scams so quickly. Watch out for these ploys. And always notify your friend ASAP if you think you've received a suspicious email from that friend.

  • You receive an email that appears to be from someone you know: the email asks you to download a picture or click on a link. Don't. You may be downloading spyware.

  • You receive an email that appears to be from a friend who needs money now: call your friend, if you want, but delete the email. And tell your friend immediately if this happens!

  • A friend supposedly asks you to forward an email to your friends: scammers can be trying to use your email list to scam your friends.

  • You receive an unusual "friend" request on social media sites: scammers are grabbing pictures from social media sites and creating phony identities. Be careful who you "friend."

Protecting your personal information and your money isn't rocket science. Learn to question. Use caution. And rely on research before reacting.

If these tips helped, share this page with your family and friends now.