Advances in technology have also made us more vulnerable

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You don't have to be a victim, but you do have to enlist in the battle

Is technology a blessing or a curse? Yes.

If you use a smart phone, PC, tablet or any of the myriad devices now available, that may well be your answer.

The upside is fairly obvious: the ability to shop, pay bills and access information without ever getting off your backside.

The downside: there's always somebody out there trying to pick your pocket -- without getting off his backside.

This National Consumer Protection Week would seem to be a good time to take a look at the pitfalls and what you can do to protect yourself.

Let's review

Email scams

Scammers use email to try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers -- a tactic known as phishing.

They'll often tell a story to trick you into clicking on a link or opening an attachment, send something that looks like it’s from a company you know or trust, like a bank or a credit card or utility company.

Once they have your information they may be able to access your email, bank, or other accounts or sell your information to other scammers. Scammers launch thousands of phishing attacks like these every day — and they’re often successful.

Spam calls

You answer your phone and several seconds later hear a recording instead of a live person: It's a robocall probably trying to sell you something -- or worse.

These can take many forms such as government impersonators, someone asking for personal information, or instructing recipients to wire money or pay with a gift card.

Among the scariest for senior citizens are callers claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, threatening to take certain actions including arrest, legal action or suspending your Social Security number because you don’t agree to pay money immediately.

These are easy to figure out if you keep in mind that Social Security employees will only contact you if you have requested a call or are doing business with the agency, and will never threaten you for information or promise benefits in exchange for information.

In those cases, the call is fraudulent.

Texting scams

You won a sweepstakes you didn't enter; you can get free stuff just for filling out a survey; you need to pay a certain amount to get your package delivered -- a package you had no idea was coming.

These are all examples of “smishing,” a scam that uses text messages that look like they’re from well-known names like USPS, Costco, or The Home Depot and others. Hold on there: they’re from impersonators.

What to do

The big question here with all this garbage rolling in is, “how do I protect myself?"

If you get an unexpected text or email, do not click on the link.

An email with an unfamiliar address? Delete.

Do not make payments you do not owe or purchase gift cards because you've been told to or asked to.

Consumer education is the key to keeping yourself safe.

Roopa Ramaiya of Feedzai, which bills itself as a leader in fighting financial crime with artificial intelligence (AI), says it's important to know that fraudsters play on fear and anxiety.

"Your bank or legitimate merchant is never going to scare you or pressure you into taking an action," she says. "If an email, text, or call you receive from someone purporting to be from your financial institution plays on your fears or anxiety, take a step back.”

Your best bet is to disengage from the communication, Ramaiya adds, and “contact your financial institution at a known and published number or go into the branch or store. Take the time to confirm the legitimacy of the communication."

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