Q: I received an email from my bank telling me that my account is in jeopardy and that I need to respond via email. To verify my identity, they want me to include my full name, social security number and date of birth. Is it safe for me to email them all my personal information or should I call the bank to settle this matter? 

 A: We're glad that you reached out to us to seek advice for this question. You should absolutely not email any of your personal information or even respond to this email. Most banks — especially larger banks — do not send email alerts asking for you to respond with your full name, social security number and date of birth. We'd recommend that you call your bank to alert them of the phishing email as well as mark the email as spam.

As a general rule for the future you should remember to never include personal information in an email. There are multiple reasons for this but the main is that you never really know who has access to that information in the email. The intended receiver's email could have been hacked or your email could get hacked — leaving your information accessible to some stranger.

For example, you decide that you want to change your cable package, so you email the company's general email — such as contact@CompanyName.com. Since usually when you call the company asks to verify your full name, date of birth and the last four digits of your social security number, so, naturally, you include them in the email to make it easier for the employee receiving the email. Even though you were trying to assist the customer service representative by providing your information, what you don't realize is that since you sent it to the general email, there's a high chance that a majority of the employees — of whom you don't know — now have your personal information.

Keeping your personal information private is the first step to preventing identity theft so it's wise of you to avoid any situation in which you might reveal information about yourself, such as your social security number, date of birth or more.

If you're interested in taking more of a hands-on approach to avoiding identity theft then you might want to look into signing up for an identity theft protection service. These services daily monitor your credit report from all three bureaus as well as monitor your personal information on the Internet black market to make sure your information is not being sold or traded to identity thieves. Visit our identity theft protection services compare chart to see what each individual service has to offer in terms of identity theft protection.

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