Some new year’s resolutions are as familiar as a lullaby—and are equally sleep-inducing: Go to the gym. Balance your budget. Call your mom. Why not make this year’s resolution a real wake-up call: Resolve to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams and fraud.

“There is no foolproof way to protect ourselves from all attempts to get hold of our personal information and money," says Howard Schwartz, Executive Communications Director for the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. "But if we look at scam statistics from 2015, we see a pattern of activity that we can avoid for the most part.”  Schwartz says that the number of impostor scams is growing so it's up to consumers to protect their personal information, money and homes to stop scams from affecting them.

Scammers, Scram!

Here are six steps to stop scams from stinging you in 2016:

  1. Stand firm. In the IRS scam, which was the top scam of 2015, and the jury duty scam, scammers often threaten you with legal action or arrest if you don’t pay up immediately. Don’t let yourself be pushed or scared into action. The IRS clearly states that it will never call out of the blue; does not ask for credit card, debit card, or prepaid card information over the telephone or email; never requests immediate payment over the phone or email; and will not take enforcement action immediately following a phone conversation. If you get a call or email from someone purporting to be from the IRS, hang up or delete the email immediately.
  2. Don’t be greedy. Many scams appeal to our desire for a jaw-dropping deal or to get something for free. These include phony sweepstakes, prizes, gifts, government grants, and “inheritances.” These scams commonly con you into paying a fee for delivery, processing or insurance. “Common sense tells us that if someone is asking $100 for a high-end product that ordinarily sells for $500, you should be very skeptical before giving them your credit card number,” says Schwartz.
  3. Take control of your telephone. Your phone is one of the most common and easiest conduits for a scam to sneak into your home—telemarketing fraud is estimated to cost consumers $350 million per year. Caller ID is no longer reliable; scammers “spoof” recognized numbers to fool you into answering. Mobile phones, increasingly, are no barrier; the recent Congressional budget bill which allows debt collectors to use robocall technology in certain situations, opens the door to scammers buzzing your cellphone. Your best bet: Unless you recognize the number, let the call go to voice mail. If a scammer gets through, just hang up.
  4. Be proactive rather than reactive. Beware the disaster scam, which manipulates your emotions so that you open your wallet without thinking. (Ditto the grandparent scam, where a scammer calls to say that a relative has gotten into trouble and need emergency cash.) Instead of responding to a heartrending charitable appeal over the telephone or email, make sure the charity has a proven track record in dealing with disasters. Check it out with one of the three major charity watchdogs: The BBB (Better Business Bureau’s) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and CharityWatch. Beware of charities whose names are similar to established organizations; some phony charities use names, seals, and logos that look or sound like those of respected, legitimate organizations but are actually allocating funds to non-program activities or, worse, are scams.
  5. Secure your computer. You wouldn’t leave your front door wide open when you head off to work, so why would you have the equivalent of a “Scammers welcome!” sign on your computer? Apply software updates, most of which are designed to close security loopholes, and create strong passwords that contain at least one upper case letter, a number, and a symbol.
  6. Share appropriate information. Never share your personal information or financial information to anyone over the phone or email unless you solicit the call or message yourself. Imposter scams are growing, warns Schwartz, noting that scammers pose as workers in doctors’ and dentists’ offices and even play appropriate background noise to fool you into believing them.

Share these warnings with your family, friends, and colleagues to stop scams from hurting your finances. “We shouldn’t be afraid to go on with our daily lives, but the more we know how these cons work, the more we can protect ourselves and our loved ones,” says Schwartz. He happily tabulates the growing number of reports from people who were approached by a scammer, recognized a ruse, and hung up. “Every time I hear that, it’s music to my ears.”