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Scam Alert

Are These 'Scams' for Real?

Get the facts on credit card fraud, ATM debit fees and more

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News you can ignore — Corbis

Maybe you missed the news, but archaeologists working in Guatemala recently unearthed a "new" Mayan calendar that goes beyond 2012, exploding notions that the world would end on Dec. 21.

Whew! But as humankind journeys on, so will other rumors, urban legends and misinformation — often shared by well-meaning friends and family — that warn of impending risk to your money, safety, privacy or identity. So before you click the email "forward" button, here are the facts on four false alarms that never die and are ever so enticing to spread.

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Electronic hotel room keys contain your personal information.

Since 2003, email warnings have claimed that your credit card number and home address are stored on the magnetic strip of your hotel key — and harvested by identity thieves when you leave the card in your room or toss it in a lobby trash can.

Reality: Hotel keys contain coded information for only the room number and check-in/out dates, says Chad Callaghan of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. If you use a key to charge dinner at a hotel restaurant, it's billed to your room, but "credit card information is stored on another machine," says Callaghan.

Hide your car's VIN or thieves can get a replacement key and steal the vehicle.

Yes, the easily viewed vehicle identification number on your dashboard and doorjamb reveals what standard key will fit your car.

Reality: Reputable dealerships and locksmiths require proof of ownership to issue a replacement key. In any case, obscuring a VIN is unwise — and may be illegal, because police rely on the numbers to identify stolen cars.

Next page: The truth about cellphone telemarketing, debit fees. »

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