According to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, financial exploitation cost seniors nearly 3 billion annually. Although it is hard to obtain exact numbers because according to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt only 1 in 24 cases gets reported.

Since scammers are constantly changing their tactics, a comprehensive list of current scams becomes outdated as soon as it is written. However, in general the most common scams all involve unsolicited contact from people claiming to be family members or to represent well-known organizations such as the IRS, Social Security Administration, or tech companies like Microsoft and Google. In most cases, these scammers communicate some type of emergency situation that requires immediate action. Relying on a healthy dose of surprise and fear these charlatans are often able to convince the individual to turn over sensitive personal information that can include bank or credit card information, social security numbers, or even access to their personal computer.

In the past six months I have personally been called by a recorded message claiming my social security benefits had been suspended, an individual claiming to work for Microsoft warning me of serious viruses on my computer, and a Facebook instant message from a friend needing help. None of these communications were instigated by me, and all were illegitimate.

However, not everyone is as technically savvy and untrusting as me. I have a family member who was taken in by one of these scams less than a week ago. Unfortunately, it was only after the fact that they called me. Mid-way through describing the incident to me, I recognized the situation and interrupted their story to inform them they had been scammed and to instruct them on next steps.

Only time will tell the extent to which my relative was harmed by this scammer. But, if you find yourself the potential victim of fraud, time is of the essence. It is best to assume the scammer intends to do as much damage as possible, and do all that you can to protect yourself. First, you should contact your bank, credit card companies, the credit bureau and other financial institutions you may work with ASAP to inform them of the potential threat, and place a temporary freeze on these accounts. After that, experts recommend you go to the police department and file a report, not because the police will take action to catch the con-men, but instead to have proof, should you need it later, that a crime had been committed.

While it’s good to know what to do if you’ve been the victim of a scam, it’s even better to not become a victim to begin with. With the small amount of space I have left I thought I would share a few tips for hopefully protecting you from these vipers.

First, keep your wits about you. Ask yourself does this make sense? As I mentioned earlier, scammers are much more likely to be successful when their mark is in an emotional state. The best way to avoid making a bad decision is to take the emotion out of the situation. Take a step back and really think about what is happening. Usually, if you take a moment our two to regain your composure you will gain clarity you didn’t have in the moment.

Second, avoid unsolicited communications. Rarely do scammers wait for you to contact them. If someone calls and you don’t recognize the number, don’t answer it. If it’s a legitimate call they will leave a message. If you get an email or text you didn’t expect from someone you think you know, call the person and confirm it was them sending it.

It’s sad, but there are always going to be people seeking to prey on others. However, with a little common sense, and some additional knowledge you can hopefully avoid being taken advantage of by these low-life’s