I recently opened my AOL mailbox (yes, I still have an AOL email address) and found an email labeled "Pending Lawsuit" from the "Clerk of the Court." I instantly deleted it. This is a long standing scam. If you open the email, it will look like an email from the clerk of a local court advising you that a lawsuit has been filed against you and instructing you to open an attachment. The attachment will look harmless enough. Probably a summons directing you to call the court. The problem is the damage has already been done. By opening the attachment you have just downloaded a virus that will be running without you even knowing it, collecting your personal data, passwords, banking information, etc. Then there are the scammers who are bold enough to try and double dip. Not only have they downloaded a virus to your computer, but if you call the number on the fake summons you will speak with a "clerk" who threatens you with jail time unless you pay a "fine."
Some people will just delete the email without even opening it. But imagine you are already under stress due to overwhelming debt and you are getting collection calls and letters everyday. You may just open that attachment, worried that the consequence of not doing so will be even worse. In a previous post, I talked about the "snowball effect of debt" leading to bankruptcy. Let's put this scam under the categor of the "snowball effect of circumstance" leading to bankruptcy. You broke your leg leading to an unexpected medical bill, then your boss cut your hours, and now a scam artist has stolen your identity and taken out loans without your knowledge. That snowball is getting bigger and bigger. I have had to file bankruptcy on behalf of debtors solely because of identity theft issues. It's awful. The debtor may have spent years and thousands of dollars trying to prove that their identity was stolen. In the meantime he can't get a car loan, a credit card or take out a mortgage. The police try to help but many times the scammer isn't even in the country and cannot be tracked. Imagine trying to get a credit card company to believe you didn't rack up debt when you can't even tell them the name of the person who did. Imagine dealing with that same scenario involving 10-15 different lenders. Very few people are able to get out from under that burden and seek bankruptcy protection to get a fresh start.
Don't open emails from people and companies you don't know. Don't open emails from agencies that you have had no prior contact with. If you've had no dealings with the State Department, it won't be contacting you for the first time online. Routinely check your credit report. You don't have to sign up for credit monitoring to do this. I pull a one-time credit report four times a year from one of the credit bureaus. Lastly, when in doubt, call a good bankruptcy attorney (yes, I mean me).