Surprising, fascinating, often insulting and more than a little scary.
That describes the daily emails that come into my old email address, which no longer has an operational spam filter. Without the junk mail screener, I wade through some 40 to 50 unsolicited emails per day. Many are quite rude, though occasionally hilarious.
More than half of them are offering to increase the size of my manhood, which is an offer I am trying not to take personally. I can also very easily lower my blood pressure and flatten my abs. If only self-improvement were so easy...
But there is a very scary element to all this. The dangerous part is the large number of legitimate-looking emails that talk to me about my recently received payment, my ATM card, my account with my bank or even my recent rental car.
The last one really tested me, as I had rented a car recently from the company whose name was being used by the scammers. Luckily, I previewed the attachment first and confirmed it was fake. But the coincidence was very scary.
In these "phishing" expeditions, scammers send out millions of emails that look legitimate, but whose only purpose is to get you to respond or to open up an attachment that will release a virus or tracking software into your computer. These can then send your personal info, passwords and account numbers to the scammers.
Almost everyone with an email account receives lots of legitimate-looking emails with the name and logo of their own bank or financial supplier included. The emails make a very reasonable request, but they all involve either replying, clicking a link or opening up an attachment.
Do not do any of those things. Delete these emails immediately, using the controls Shift and Delete, to permanently delete the message.
And for sure, never send any login or password information in response to any request from your financial institution. No legitimate financial institution will ever ask for such information as your password.
You can also report such scams to the federal government's Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre online, where you can also get a lot of information about identity theft, how to protect yourself and how to respond if you become a victim.
Identity theft is a very real problem, and not all of it is high-tech. To protect yourself, please shred (or burn) all of your account statements, bills, invoices and anything else that can identify you or your institutions.
Identity thieves can go through recycling bins and trash cans to gather information. All they need is two or three of your account numbers from various suppliers in order to pretend to be you and apply for credit or other obligations in your name you may be required to pay back.
Warning signs include contact from an institution saying you have applied for credit or been approved or denied, when you did not make the application. Also, not receiving your expected credit card bills or being contacted about a delinquent account, are alerts.
If you suspect you have been a victim, contact the fraud departments of the credit bureaus Equifax (866-828-5961) and Trans Union (800-663-9980) and request a fraud alert be placed on your account. This is fairly dramatic, so expect your own borrowing abilities to be curtailed temporarily.
Also notify your banks, credit union, credit card companies and other creditors, and even the police.
As the desk sergeant used to say on the '80s TV show Hill Street Blues, "Be careful out there!"
David Christianson, BA, CFP, R.F.P., TEP, is a financial planner and adviser with Christianson Wealth Advisors, a vice-president with National Bank Financial Wealth Management and author of the book Managing the Bull, A No-Nonsense Guide to Personal Finance.