Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on 9-11. Volunteer today

Scam Alert

Are These 'Scams' for Real?

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

news ignore scam alert plug ears

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.

Register to win the latest AARP sweepstakes giveaways

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. »

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


The Cheap Life

Jeff Yeager Cheap Life Ultimate Cheapskate AARP YouTube web series save money

Catch the latest episode of The Cheap Life starring Jeff Yeager, AARP's Ultimate Cheapskate. Watch

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Member Benefits HomeServe

Members can protect their homes with comprehensive repair plans from HomeServe.

AARP Credit card from Chase

Members can get cash back rewards on purchases with the AARP® Credit Card from Chase.

Woman holding smartphone in city, Google map tool

Members can find discounts on the go via the AARP® Member Advantages Offer Finder app.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points


Advance your skills. Transform your career.

Explore your learning possibilities.