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Don’t Let These Scams Steal Your Personal Financial Information

August 2013

Thieves who want to steal your personal financial information and your money never sleep. Every day, hundreds of thousands of scam emails and phone calls target unsuspecting consumers. The following three scams are widespread right now. Here’s how to identify them and how to protect yourself and family members.

“Have You Got Your Obamacare Card Yet?”—Health Insurance Scams

The Scam: Someone claiming to be a government representative calls or emails you. This person or email claims that under the terms of the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare) you must “join” the plan and be issued a special “Obamacare” insurance card. If you are older, they may claim you need to have a new Medicare card issued. They may say you’ll be arrested if you don’t immediately give them information such as your Social Security number and checking or credit card account numbers. They may try to gain your trust by asking you first to “confirm” your name and address.

The Facts: All variants of these unsolicited calls or emails are scams. They take advantage of the confusion related to the October opening of healthcare exchanges and the implementation of health insurance requirements under the Affordable Health Care Act. Their claims are fake. There is no such thing as an “Obamacare card.” Any insurance plan offered by such means is likely to be an outright fraud, according to experts. Current recipients of Medicare benefits are not affected by the new law and do not have to do anything to continue with their benefits.

What To Do To Protect Yourself. If you get an email, just delete it. If you open the email, never click on any link in the email or download any attachments. Such links typically download malware to your computer in order to steal personal or financial information. If you get a phone call, just hang up. Do not confirm any personal information. Never give out your Social Security number or account numbers to any unsolicited caller.

If you want to know more about how provisions of the Affordable Care Act may apply to you, see all the resources at www.healthcare.gov. If you have questions about Medicare, use the information and contacts at www.medicare.gov. If you have questions about your current health insurance, use the contact information on your current insurance card or policy.

Tip: You can report any fraudulent emails or calls to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/. You can report a fraudulent email to the FBI-sponsored Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), www.ic3.gov.

Protect Yourself from Scams

  • Don't click on links or download attachments from unsolicited emails.
  • Don't download or open attachments unless you requested it or knew it was coming.
  • Don't give out personal or financial information over the phone unless you initiated the phone call.
  • If you think the call is legitimate, hang up and call the customer service number provided by a reputable source.

“Pay Up or Face Arrest”—Scams Impersonating Law Enforcement Officers

The Scam: A phone caller or emailer claiming to be a police officer or other law enforcement agent asserts that you owe money for an unpaid traffic fine or an unpaid utility bill or something similar. The fraudster also claims to have a warrant for your arrest if you don’t pay up immediately. The fraud’s goal is to intimidate you into immediately giving a credit card number or checking account information to pay the cited amount.

In another variant of this scam, the con artist claims to be from a federal agency that will arrest you for illegally buying prescription drugs over the Internet. Again, the goal is to frighten you so that you will give up your information and your money without thinking.

The Facts: All such emails and phone calls are scams. Real law enforcement does not work in this way. Emails will often have a link or downloadable document that infects your computer with malware in order to “harvest” your financial information or steal your identity. Even if you owe a legitimate debt and you think the call is from a legitimate debt collector, they do not have the legal right to threaten you in this way.

What To Do To Protect Yourself. Delete the email without opening it and never click on any links or download any attachments. Hang up on a caller without responding. If you know that the call is from a legitimate debt collector, you have the right to tell them to stop making telephone calls to you. For more information, see the FTC video Dealing with Debt Collectors and other print resources.

Tip: Make sure that you have security software installed on your computer (firewall and anti-virus and anti-spyware program). Keep it updated.

“Confirm Your Reservation” (Which You Didn’t Make)—Scams Related to Travel Plans

The Scam: An email arrives in your inbox with a subject line something like this:

  • Confirm your XYZ Airline Reservation
  • Confirm your hotel reservation with SomeBookingAgency.com

This scam has been around for years. Only the names of the airlines or booking agencies change. Usually, you know that you haven’t made reservations but you are curious. So you open the email. The email looks like it came from a real company—it’s a spoof—and they even have your name, a travel itinerary and a confirmation number. So you click the link to “check in” or to download information—just that quick, the criminals have you! They have you fill in a bogus form to capture your personal information or they download malware to your computer to steal information.

The Facts: You know if you’ve made a reservation or not. If you haven’t, delete the email without opening it. Even if you are curious, just delete it.

If you have reservations with some airline or hotel for travel, don’t just assume the email is legitimate. The criminals send out so much scam spam, they are bound to hit someone who has a reservation with a particular airline or hotel. These scams are so common that you need to be careful even when you have legitimate reservations. A variant scam claims that you have won a pair of airline tickets; these emails and phone calls are also scams.

What To Do To Protect Yourself. If you haven’t made reservations, delete the email without opening. Do it no matter how curious you are.

When you make reservations for air travel, rental cars or hotels, always note the confirmation number at the time you make the reservation. Do it even if you get a confirmation email.

Travel companies often remind you of reservations by email, so it’s important to check your original confirmation number and itinerary against any the email provides. If the email appears legitimate, also check the URL of any site to which you are directed in order to create boarding passes. For extra safety, log onto airline site independently using the URL you obtain independently (from your original reservation printout or separate search). Then use the check-in process there, rather than clicking on links in an email.

Tip: Remember that smartphones are also vulnerable. When you receive emails or texts and go to links (all data functions) on smartphones, the phones typically have the same vulnerabilities as computers. So take the same precautions to protect your information.

For More Information

For the most popular Internet crimes see

Beware of Con Artists Impersonating Police from AARP

Changes in Health Insurance: Where to Learn More from the FTC


Reviewed and updated January 2015.

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