This week, we are going to talk about a no-cost way to improve your financial life.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. Often, criminals try to trick you into giving them your private information. I recently heard of someone getting a call telling them that their Social Security checks were going to be stopped because they were a known money launderer. To stop this, you had to stay on the line and provide personal information.

If someone was a known money launderer, do you think the government would give you a warning call? No, they would probably freeze all of your bank accounts and send agents to your house.

Social Security would probably not be involved. But the reason these scams work is they cause fear since most senior receive it and the thought of losing it gets you to let your guard down. You think, “I will just answer a couple of questions to clear my name.” Now they have your info.

As we approach tax season, the number of calls, supposedly from the IRS, increase. If you do not send a money order or prepaid card to some address, they will send the police. Many people get such calls every year. The IRS does not call or send e-mails. They send a series of letters through the postal mail. The police do not arrest anyone for the IRS. Yet fear makes some people let down their defenses.

Never give your Social Security number to anyone who calls you. The government, banks and insurance companies already know it. If you make the call, you may have to give it to prove it is you.

Warning, you cannot win the Irish lottery if you did not enter it. Often people are told they won a prize but must pay some fee before collecting the prize. That is not the way legitimate contests work. No king in Africa is going to randomly pick your name out of the telephone book and ask you to hold his multi-million dollars and let you keep a little for helping out. Yet all of these scams pull people in all of the time. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

One of the best ways to protect yourself is to have good passwords and do not use the same ones for everything. Sure it is harder to remember, but it is much safer. Use a combination of capital letter and special characters. Longer passwords are harder to crack. Shred garbage with sensitive data such as account numbers.

Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse. If they are lost, your sensitive data is exposed. The new Medicare cards have finally been issued with new non-SS numbers. Don’t let your guard down. Talk to elderly parents and friends to warn them of these dangers. Use common sense. If you are not engaged in illegal activities, authorities cannot just make it up. Do not be the next person caught in these scams.

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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