We hear about a new scam nearly every day. In fact, the Consumer Sentinel Network received over 3 million complaints in 2016 alone. This doesn’t include complaints filed on the National Do Not Call Registry, which adds another 5.3 million.

Scammers defrauded Americans out of $744 million in 2016, so we sat down with Sheba Wallish of SHERPA® Identity Protection and Brenda Walker of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association to learn more about what scams are and how our readers can protect themselves. Here’s how you can stay ahead of the scammers, and make sure your savings are yours to enjoy.

Since the publication of this article, the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association changed its name to CrossState Credit Union Association.

What Are Scams?

Our experts define scams as “a fraudulent scheme by a dishonest individual or company.” As you would expect from such a wide definition, there are many, many kinds of scams.

A scam is a fraudulent scheme by a dishonest individual or company. There are many, many kinds of scams.

They range from things like fraudulent organizations claiming “You’ve won $300! Send us your bank information, and we’ll transfer the money over to you” to fake charities. There are other ways the malicious individuals or groups take advantage of others.

“Seniors tend to fall prey to … the tax schemes that are going on right now,” Walker said. “You’ll receive a call from someone claiming to be the IRS, and you have fraudulent filings on your taxes. If you don’t call them back or comply with their request, you’ll go to jail.”

Identity theft is another deceptive and illegal scam. In these cases, scammers will get your personal information, like a social security number, and use it for financial gain.

Who Do Scammers Target?

Scammers are after anything they can profit from. While they’ll target any demographic, minors, the military, and seniors are the targets they see most, according to SHERPA®. These people tend to check their personal information less often or be less world-wary.

“The elderly, specifically, tend to be a little more trusting, a little more willing to share their information with somebody who sounds friendly,” Wallish said. “They come from a generation that left their doors unlocked and learned to trust and help each other.”

What Are They After?

In most cases, scammers will try to trick you into giving them money. They may also target your social security number or your home address, which they can use to open credit cards or steal your identity.

If they can steal your passwords and sell them to the highest bidder, they will. Scammers target anything they think they can sell.

How Can I Protect Myself?

With all these things in mind, how do you protect yourself from scammers?

“It’s difficult. You can’t prevent everything,” Wallish said. “But I think it’s, first and foremost, being mindful of who and where you’re sharing your information.”

Here’s our best advice: Do not share your information with people or places that seem suspicious. This could be a website that you’ve never heard of or someone you don’t know asking for personal information. Even if you trust a website or person, if you don’t think it’s necessary for them to have a piece of information, don’t give it to them.

Here’s our best advice: Do not share your information with people or places that seem suspicious.

Scammers will also take advantage of any target who wavers in their decision making. They may rush you, saying you must act now and preventing you from making a thought-through decision. If they don’t give you time to confirm they’re not scammers, they probably have bad intentions.

They may also try to push you into an emotional decision. This is popular with the fake charity scammers, who take advantage of your generosity. Some are even more sinister.

“I recently spoke to a credit union that had a member that was scammed. They received a phone call from the police, who said, ‘We have your granddaughter and you need to immediately withdraw $2,000 from your account and bring it to this location before we release your granddaughter,’” Walker said. “When the member requested to talk to her granddaughter, the fake policeman said they can’t allow that since she was in custody and she would have to pay them first. And the member went and did it. They withdrew the money, went and met this person, and lost the $2,000. The granddaughter was, of course, safe wherever she was.”

Not only did the scammers rush the member to decide, they scared her into making an emotional decision by bringing her granddaughter into it. Most grandparents would do anything for their grandkids, so they became an easy target.

Ultimately, the best way to protect yourself is with this rule: If it seems like a scam, it probably is.

Ultimately, the best way to keep yourself say is to follow one simple rule. If it seems like a scam, it probably is. Before moving forward, take the time to do your research. It may seem like an obvious rule, but it’s a powerful one. Follow your gut, and if it seems suspicious, hang up or delete the email.

Have You Been Scammed?

If you do fall victim to a scam, don’t beat yourself up. You can report it to the Federal Trade Commission, who protect consumers in their Scam Alert section. You can even subscribe to receive email updates for any developing scams.

● ● ●

Every year, millions of Americans are duped by scammers looking to steal your information or make a quick buck. If you follow these tips and watch for the signs of a scam, you’re much less likely to be among them.

Further Reading

AARP — Profile of a Scam Victim
Attorney General Bill Schuette — Grandparent’s Scam
The Shop & Enroll Blog — How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
PennLive — Beware of phone scams where callers claim they arrested your relatives: Police
Pennsylvania Treasury — Treasurer Torsella Warns Pennsylvanians of Telephone Scam
Stanford Center on Longevity — Mild Cognitive Impairment and Susceptibility to Scams in Old Age