Panic is an effective tool for identity thieves. If someone's scaring you into acting immediately, chances are they're using fear to overcome your natural intelligence.
One hot con: You get an e-mail from your bank or some branch of the U.S. government. Something's wrong and something horrible (arrest, garnishment, legal action, empty or blocked accounts) is going to happen if you don't do something right now.
The giveaway: "The FBI does not e-mail people," says Jenny Shearer, spokeswoman for the FBI. And the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Homeland Security or any other branch of the federal government won't either. (They also probably won't phone you out of the blue.)
Be especially suspicious if the party requests your Social Security number, credit card number, bank account number or other personal financial information. The bank already has the data it needs, and isn't going to contact you to ask you for it again, says Foley.
If you think that "emergency" e-mail is really from your bank, look up the phone number on your bank statement and call to verify, she says.