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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

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.

Your cellphone number is being released to telemarketers.

Since 2004, emails have been warning that your number will be turned over "this month," and unless you register it on the federal Do Not Call Registry, you'll be bombarded with sales calls.

Reality: Register your cell if you want, but it's not necessary. Plans for a public cellphone directory were discussed but scrapped years ago — and even that proposal was only for folks who wanted to "opt in."

The feds are going to tax every debit card and ATM transaction (or every email sent).

False claims that a 1 percent tax is likely to be levied on all financial transactions are one of the top urban legends, says legend research site

Reality: A lone congressman introduced such a bill several times as a deficit reduction measure, but it has died every time. As for a pending 5-cent surcharge on each email, that tale started in 1999. It's still spread by (tax-free) email and lists a phony sponsor and bill number.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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