Home > Identity Theft > 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Give Your Email Out Like Candy

Comments 0 Comments

Email addresses are like opinions—nearly everyone has one. It is the most public piece of personal information you have besides your name. But what you may not know about your email address could hurt you.

Your email may not seem like personally identifiable information at first blush, and for good reason. It is a requirement of everyday life. Asked for a list of sensitive personal information, I feel pretty certain that most people wouldn’t think of their email address right away. It’s not like a Social Security number, or even your date of birth. However, to an identity thief, your email address is one of the pathways into your financial life.

More and more regulators and legislators are codifying email addresses as sensitive personal information and adding it to the definition of PII in laws and regulations for this reason. In the wrong hands, an email address can be a big problem.

1. It’s the Command Center for Your Online Life

If a thief gets control of your email account, you are vulnerable to attack elsewhere. Many passwords reset via email, so even if you use a separate, long and strong password on, for instance, your bank account, a thief with access to your email can reset it. Many sites offer the choice between password reset via email or a mobile phone. Choose the latter for greater security.

2. It’s an Easy Way to Speak Directly to You

Email is the vehicle of choice for phishers and spearphishers. That’s why so much effort on the part of fraudsters has gone into designing email messages that look like the real thing. Gone are the days of bad graphics, bad grammar and spelling that would put a 5-year-old to shame. Cyber scammers use email because it works. Offering a deal that is too good to be true; scaring the daylights out of the email recipient about an existing account, or a new account or suspicious activity; threatening big penalties for unpaid tax bills — the triggers are too many to list.

Providing personal information via email or entering sensitive personal information on a website designed to look like a financial or government institution can be a sort of Pavlovian response for many people. If you fall for the trap, you will become an unwitting co-conspirator in the theft of your own identity.

3. It Contains Other Sensitive Information

Your email address often contains your name; your name and a number that means something to you or others who know you; or your name in combination with the name of the company where you work. Even if it doesn’t contain your name, it may include the year you were born, the college you attended or your favorite band. All of that information becomes tiny breadcrumbs that can be used by scammers to piece together passwords, answer security questions or even just help the thieves appear like they know who you are so they can get you to send cash or give up even more sensitive information.

4. It Often Doubles as a User ID

Take a moment to think about the number of websites that either prompt you to use your email address in the user ID box or even pre-populate the user ID box with your email address. The theory is that consumers don’t want to be bothered to come up with different user ID for their email, financial services and social networking sites. Using an email address makes it really simple by keeping things uniform and easy.

But what’s convenient for you is just as convenient for scammers. Hackers and identity thieves can also get into your accounts faster if you use an email address as your user ID, and it’s the first thing they try. Consider the fact that it places them 50% down the road toward gaining access to your financial life.

5. Scammers Can Use It As ‘Proof’ They’re Legitimate

One of the many ways that identity thieves work is by running a con, often when they have a few pieces of information, like a phone number and email address and home address, and want to parlay that into more useable data points. This typically involves the deft deployment of known facts to create the illusion of access in the hope of getting still more.

How it works: If a crook has your email address, they can usually cobble together other facts about you, like your name, where you live, where your kids go to school—any information that is online and contains both your email address and an implicit statement of fact about you: e.g,. your email on a PTA meeting list. A scammer can then call you up and use those facts to “prove” they know you in an attempt to get access to your financial accounts or other information they need to steal your identity. Never provide information to someone who contacts you. Ask for the name of the organization that contacted you, find their number independently and contact them directly.

If you bear in mind that email can get you in trouble, and act accordingly, you can save yourself a lot of grief. Sharing doesn’t always mean caring. When it comes to your email address, your need to share would be better served by giving money to a charity.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: Hemera

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team