Cheryl Parson: Protecting your personal information


By Cheryl Parson - Better Business Bureau

From time to time we’ve all received an email from a Nigerian doctor, a widow of an English billionaire, or the International Lottery. They normally include some pretty hard-to-believe stories and situations that most of us probably wouldn’t fall prey to. The reason these wild tales often work is because they want only the most gullible victims to respond.

Scammers also realize the most gullible are often the least likely to have enough money to make their schemes monetarily successful. Many of these fraudsters now use specific personal information to lure you into their criminal pursuits. They may know your name, your phone number, family members’ names, or what bank you use. Even the most intelligent often think that since scammers appear to know so much about them it must be a legitimate call. They respond and readily fall into the scammers’ trap to steal their money, or even worse, their identity.

One of the most often asked questions we receive at the BBB is, “How do they know so much about me?” Scammers nowadays are technologically savvy and mine personal data from several sources. Here are some of the ways.

• Google yourself. You’re likely to be surprised how much personal information is available at the click of a mouse. Thieves can buy all sorts of public records at state, local, and federal levels. Most often this info has been legitimately assembled by private companies that resell it to anyone.

• Social media is a literal gold mine for the unscrupulous. They can learn a ton of information about potential targets. Many people just put it out there for anyone to see — their phone numbers, their kids’ names, when they go on vacation, and much more! Protect yourself by limiting who can see your posts, what information you share, and not posting dates and information about upcoming events in your life such as vacations and business travel.

• Smart phone apps are a major resource of information for criminals. Almost every app, whether it’s for a game, flashlight or shopping, requires you to agree to their Terms of Use. Many of these apps are only interested in harvesting your personal information and selling it. Again, anyone can purchase it, even scammers. Before you OK the app’s Terms of Use agreement check to see what info the app wants access to when you install it.

• Online contests are almost a direct pipeline to unwanted sales calls and scurrilous hucksters. According to a recent AARP article, “Marketers not only collect information like name, age, and address, they may learn other things — whether you like to travel or if are buying a car.” They also learn that you believe in luck and that could make you a target.

• Criminals have long read obituaries of the recently deceased. They learn the names of vulnerable husbands, wives, children and grandchildren. It is best to keep personal information to a minimum in obituaries.

• Finally, data breaches have exposed millions and millions of private, personal records all over the world and you know all that data is in the hands of dangerous criminals.

The things I just listed are just a few ways scammers get your personal information. If you think you have provided your account details, passport, tax file number, licenses, Medicare or other personal identification data to a scammer, contact your bank, financial institution, or other relevant agencies immediately.

We encourage you to report scams to your local law enforcement agencies and to us at the BBB. Doing so helps us warn people about current scams and disrupt them when possible.

By Cheryl Parson

Better Business Bureau

Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at

Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at

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