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Common scams to take your money and how to avoid them

Common scams to take your money and how to avoid them
Karenr | Dreamstime.com Dreamstime.com

Whoever said, "crime doesn't pay" definitely did not live in the Digital Age. Hackers and phone scammers are so devious and ruthless that, unfortunately, they steal billions of dollars.

Yes, billions with a "B." By some estimates, their scams earn them $50 billion every year.

The worst part is that they prey on the most vulnerable people. Do you have an elderly family member, for instance, who lives alone?

They're a target of hackers and phone scammers. These hackers are so successful because they use fear tactics to scare your family and you into handing over your identity, credit card information, billing address, Social Security number and more.

Note: Please slow down when you receive a scary phone call or receive an alarming letter in the mail or by email. Scammers can't make money if they don't make you panic or feel guilty for not donating.

We are informing you about five scams that you should tell everyone about. These scams have one thing in common, the scammer is counting on you to get frazzled - the more panicked you are, the more likely you'll comply with their demands.

Donation Scam

You can't help but feel overwhelmed when you hear about people suffering following natural disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey that flooded a huge swath of Houston this past summer.

Or, what about the mass shooting that left 58 concertgoers dead in Las Vegas? You want to share your good fortune with other people.

That's admirable, but take a breath before you donate. Sadly, scammers start sending emails and making phone calls as soon as tragedy strikes.

They set up real-sounding but phony charities. Your phone will start ringing and you'll see heartbreaking photos in your email or on Facebook.

Here's how to protect yourself and your money: Call the charity before you send them a check or give them your credit card information.

Confirm that the charity is legitimate before you send your donation. Go to their website and look for their phone number - call them to confirm it's the charity you think you're donating to.

But don't stop there. Ask them to prove that they are a 501(c)(3) charity - that's the IRS's designation for tax-exempt organizations.

They should be willing to send you that information or point you to a webpage where you can find it. Or, better yet, just hang up or trash the email and give a money to a group you can trust, like the Red Cross.

Verification Scam

Keep in mind that scammers are pros. Literally, some of them go to offices Monday to Friday and make phony phone calls and set up convincing email scams.

Sometimes, these professional call centers are halfway around the world. But, thanks to technology, it's easy for anyone to create a convincing looking email or letter by copying and pasting company logos and sending it to you.

The verification scam uses this trick to steal your money. They might send an email with an Apple or PayPal logo, for instance, requesting you to confirm your account credentials.

It's easy to be fooled. Even the most seasoned cybersecurity experts say they fall for some of these convincing scams.

Here's how to protect yourself and your money: Confirm with the company that's allegedly contacting you that they need to update your account.

If you have an account with that company, look for their phone number on a bill or a legitimate email correspondence you had with them. Call the company and tell them you're confirming that they need to update your account.

The good news is, reputable companies like PayPal are familiar with these scams. They will quickly confirm that they did not contact you - case closed.

Virtual Kidnapping

Have you ever had someone knock on your door and plead with you for help? It used to be fairly common that criminals, drug abusers and homeless people would randomly knock on doors.

They had a breathless, convincing story about a great tragedy in their lives. They might say their son, daughter or mother was in a terrible accident and they had no way of getting to the hospital.

Their story was graphic. Their loved one might have had a brain damage, horrific injuries or just hours to live.

So, you handed over a few bucks to help them out. You're a nice person - it's the least you can do.

These days, scammers have taken a similar scam to the phone. You might get a terrifying phone call from a pair of scammers, usually in the middle of the night, when you're most vulnerable.

The first scammer pretends to be a paramedic and says your child was kidnapped and they'll be killed if you don't wire the kidnappers several thousand dollars. It gets scarier.

The second scammer screams at you and threatens your family member. If you don't immediately wire money to them, they'll kill them.

Here's how to protect yourself and your money: Hang up! That's easier said than done when you think your child is in grave danger, but do it.

Hang up, then call your family and friends to make sure everyone is OK. This is an awful scam that terrorizes you with your greatest fear, that your family will be harmed or killed.

"You're the Winner" Scam

This scam is a little different than most. You've heard the expression, "you catch more flies with honey."

That's the idea here. A sweet-sounding scammer shares thrilling news - you've won the lottery or a trip to an exotic location.

But your sensors should start going off the minute they ask you to confirm your driver's license number, Social Security number or credit card information. It's an identity-theft scam.

Here's how to protect yourself and your money: Resist the urge to claim your prize and hang up (or delete the email). Call the company or state lottery that supposedly called you. Ask them about your winnings.

IRS

Almost everyone fears the U.S. government. If you owe the government money or if you've unknowingly done something illegal, there is almost no getting around a stiff penalty.

Chilling! Which is precisely why scammers pretend to be the IRS.

Remember, take a breath before you react to these scams. The IRS won't call you or, if they do, they won't be offended if you hang up on them.

There are simply too many phony IRS scams - phone calls, mail, emails and more - for you not to take extra steps to protect yourself. The scammers will yell at you, saying you need to pay them or they'll throw you in jail!

Here's how to protect yourself and your money: Hang up. Do not talk to the IRS by phone or respond to an email unless you initiate the conversation.

Here's how to contact the IRS. Call 1-800-829-1040 to get a phone conversation started or visit IRS.gov - make sure it says "gov."

How to stop robocalls and telemarketing calls for good

If your phone starts ringing as soon as you sit down to relax, you're not alone. There are millions of these calls made all the time.

That's because it's not people calling you, it's computers. They dial number after number at call centers around the world with a simple mission, to steal your money or ID.

Click here for a simple way to stop these annoying phone calls.

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