How do scammers know so much about you?

Updated September 15, 2019
Scammer hand out of computer screen grabbing information.

You probably have been a recipient of fake emails and calls from scammers.

If you are like most people, you probably have been a recipient of fake emails and calls from scammers.  These scammers seem to know a lot of personal information about you.  Have you ever wondered how they know so much?  According to AARP here are seven ways you may have given away your information:

  • Online contests are gateways to unwanted sales pitches. Not only do marketers collect information like name, age and address, they may learn other things — that you like to travel or are buying a car. Also, they know you believe in luck. That could make you a target.
  • Ever notice when you fill out a warranty card for a toaster or coffee maker that it requests information like how much money you make? It is likely that your information is being sold to others, either legitimately or as part of a scam. 
  • Do you fill out surveys rating your stay at a hotel or the service at a restaurant? Selling survey data is big business, and marketing firms and even criminals can learn a lot about you based on travel preferences, what type of home you own, or what car you drive.
  • Do you post updates on Facebook? Scammers turn to social media postings to learn more about those they’ve targeted. So, be prudent.  Don’t post personal information, narrow who can see your posts, and avoid posting real-time updates about your whereabouts.
  • Many public records are available at the federal, state, county, and city levels, including census data, property information, Waste basket shreadercriminal records, bankruptcies, and tax liens. Private companies can pull together all this information on you and sell it to anyone. And it’s 100 percent legal.
  • Do you toss out your mail?  Shred all mail that has your name, address, account numbers, or other personal data.
  • Obituaries are prime hunting ground for scammers who learn the names of vulnerable widows, widowers, children, or grandchildren. Honor the dead, but keep personal information in obituaries to a minimum. 
As you can see, there are many ways scammers can get your personal information.  You can’t control all the ways your personal information is handled.  However, some ways are under your control.  So, the next time you fill out a survey, enter an online contest, or post on Facebook remember criminals are online.   Protect your personal information and be skeptical if someone calls you claiming they are from your financial institution, credit card company, doctor’s office, etc.  When in doubt, hang up the phone and call the company yourself using the contact information on your statement.