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Anyone can fall prey to scam artists

It’s time to kill the stereotype that only the feeble-minded, or the elderly, or the feeble-minded elderly fall prey to scam artists.

That misconception makes people feel ashamed and embarrassed when they do fall victim, and prevents them from coming forward. Consumers lost a total of $1.6 billion to scams last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Data Book, but the true number is probably much higher.

“Scams can happen to anyone,” said Warren Clark, president of the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York.

But the worst part is that, once you get scammed, there’s practically nothing you can do about it.

Local police departments don’t have the resources to hunt the slimeballs down. The attorney general will take your complaint, but probably not actually do anything with it. A scam artist might be brought to “justice” if enough people report it, and if the person is easy to track down and lives in the United States. Still, even if all those factors fall in your favor, you will probably not see a dime of any restitution they are ordered to pay, if any.

Considering how easy it is to get away with scamming people, it’s a wonder more people don’t do it.

Since there is so little recourse for scam victims, the only way to protect yourself is to be vigilant and prevent it from happening in the first place.

Here are the five most common scams to watch out for, according to the BBB.

• Software scam. A caller claiming to be from Microsoft or another computer software company says your computer has a virus that they need to get rid of. They want to gain remote access to your computer (meaning they can use it from another location as if they were sitting at your keyboard).

They may charge you a fee for the bogus virus removal, but the real danger is not the sham of a fee, it’s that the caller will have access to all of your personal information, including bank account numbers and things that could be used to steal your identity. Hang up!

• IRS scam. A caller impersonating an IRS worker says you owe taxes, and that you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay up. Or they’ll say they’re about to file a lawsuit that can only be stopped if you offer immediate payment. In reality, the IRS never contacts payers by phone – only through the mail.

• Fake invoice scam. Businesses or consumers receive an invoice in the mail or by e-mail from a third party to renew a magazine or website domain name. It’s actually a third party trying to get you to subscribe (at an outrageous price) or trying to get your payment information.

• Data breach scam. With everything from Target to Home Depot to the U.S. Postal service getting hacked, a call, e-mail or Facebook message about a data breach may not seem suspicious. But instead of replying to unsolicited communication about your card being compromised, call your bank or a store’s credit department directly to see if you need to take action.

• Loan scams. Scammers call or e-mail to say you’re pre-approved for a Payday loan or some other type of loan, and that no credit check is necessary. They’ll ask for a GreenDot prepaid money card payment or a wire transfer in order to release your funds. Loan companies don’t charge hundreds of dollars in upfront fees.

Got consumer tips or questions? Email, “like” or tweet @DiscountDivaSam.