Experts Reveal 8 Useful Ways to Outsmart Scammers This Season

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Scams can happen to anyone — even to people who study them.

Kelly Richmond Pope, a forensic accounting professor at DePaul University, fell for one in 2017. While searching for tickets to a Bruno Mars concert, she found a website offering front-row seats for a low price. After she paid for the tickets, she realized … they were fake!

Looking back on the incident, Richmond Pope, who also researches fraud and white-collar crime, says, “The website I got the tickets off of did look different from Ticketmaster.”

To reduce your chances of getting swindled, take extra precautions to safeguard your data and finances. Scammers may want personal information like your social security number to, say, open a bank account or steal your benefits or your bank account numbers.

“Criminals will steal from anyone, whether you have $5 or $500 or $500,000,” says Amy Nofziger, the director of fraud victim support for AARP, which focuses on issues affecting people over 50. She oversees their fraud hotline, where they get calls from people of all ages.


Fraud is a big business. According to a 2022 report by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Americans reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to fraud, an increase of more than 30% from 2021. The most common schemes were impostor scams, followed by online shopping scams and those that involved prizes.

Richmond Pope and Nofziger share eight simple steps you can take to protect yourself from getting conned.

1. Regularly check your bank accounts for fraud

Look through your accounts, especially your checking and credit card accounts, every two weeks. “Take an hour and do a deep dive. Look at all the transactions and make sure everything there is valid and legitimate,” Richmond Pope says.

2. Check your credit report every four months

Look at your credit report every four months to see if anyone has made charges or opened accounts in your name, Nofziger says. You can get a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, every year.

3. Freeze your credit (then ‘thaw’ it when you need it)

This ensures that no one can open up a credit card or take out a loan in your name. To freeze your credit, go to the websites of each of the major credit bureaus, make an account and request a freeze.

“If I need to refinance or get a loan, I just go and ‘thaw’ it — that’s what the companies call it — for ten days. My creditor can check my credit, and then it’ll automatically be frozen again,” Nofziger says.

4. Use your credit card whenever possible

Use your credit card rather than your debit card, Richmond Pope says. “Your credit card company has a level of protection that the banks don’t seem to give. So I’ve always used my credit card for as much as I can, then just pay that credit card balance off at the end of the month.”

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If someone makes a fraudulent charge on your credit card, the most you’ll be liable for is $50, according to the FTC. But if someone gets a hold of your debit card, they can take money straight out of your checking account, leaving you without access to that cash while you sort things out with your bank. You also may be liable for much more of the losses, depending on when you report the fraud.

5. Call the number on the back of your bank card

If you suspect that someone has made a fraudulent charge on your bank card, don’t search for your bank’s phone number on the internet. Call the number on the back of your bank card or on your account statement, Nofziger says. “Criminals are placing fake customer service phone numbers [online]. You call it thinking you’re talking to your actual bank,” but it’s a fake number.

6. Sign out of your Venmo app when you’re done using it

If you thought you were only at risk while browsing the internet, you are wrong. Picture this, Nofziger says. Say you’re walking down the street and a teenager comes up to you and says, ” ‘Oh my gosh, I lost my phone. I need to call my mom to pick me up. Can I borrow your phone?’ ‘Well, of course,’ you say. ‘Here’s my phone.’ You see them dialing a phone number. But actually, what they’ve done is they’ve gone into your Venmo app,” and they’ve transferred money to themselves.

For this reason, Nofziger recommends signing out of your peer-to-peer payment apps when you’re done using them.

7. Set up your phone to decline calls from people you don’t know

To reduce your chances of answering phone calls from scammers, go into your phone settings and select the option to send unknown callers to voicemail. “That means that anybody that is not in your contacts that calls you will go directly to voicemail,” Nozfiger says. “If it’s important, [the caller] will leave a voicemail.”

8. Be careful about what you post online

People can gather a lot of information from your social media accounts, Richmond Pope says. If you share a birthday photo on your actual birthday with your age in the caption, people can find out your birth date. They can find out who your friends and family are by looking at your followers list and your tagged photos.

They can also find out when you’re out of town. Your vacation photos on Instagram announce to the world that you are not home, she adds. “Most people are not posting their pictures two weeks after they come back. They’re posting their pictures while they’re on vacation.”

If you do get scammed, make sure to report it, Nofziger says. And give yourself grace. “You were a victim of crime. End of story. You need help, kindness, empathy and guidance.”