Sid Kirchheimer, author of "Scam-Proof Your Life" and more than a dozen other books, covers consumer and health issues for AARP Media.

The Latest Power Play in the Utility Shutoff Scam

Once again, the nation’s most notorious cold-weather scam is red-hot, with a blizzard of warnings from utility companies about the shutoff swindle. In this years-old scheme, impostors call customers and threaten to cut off their power unless they immediately pay a bogus bill. This scam routinely soars as temperatures drop but also resurfaces during peak air-conditioning season. The initial call is scary enough, especially when you need heat or AC the most. Pretending to be a utility employee, a “live” …

Virtual Kidnapping: The Latest Fear-by-Phone Hoax

It sounds like something out of Hollywood, but it’s hitting homes across the country: “virtual kidnapping,” where fraudsters try to extort money by claiming that a family member has been taken hostage. This fear-provoking fraud isn’t new; there was a nationwide wave of similar calls two years ago in which swindlers usually claimed a loved one was being held after causing a traffic accident and refusing to pay for damages. But in recent weeks, the scam has exploded — and this …

Why Taxpayers Should Worry About Identity Theft

A month-long window of opportunity has opened up for scammers, and its timing is crucial for honest taxpayers. Here’s why: Identity theft. Documents that you need in order to file your 2015 tax returns should start arriving soon in your mailbox. Employers are required to mail W-2 and 1099 forms by Jan. 31; banks and brokerage firms may have later deadlines. With your Social Security number and other sensitive information, this paperwork provides identity thieves with enough details to open …

Coming Soon: IRS Private Debt Collectors — and Scammers, Too?

Combine the nation’s biggest scam, the most criticized profession and a new federal mandate issued to the IRS that’s buried in a highway funding bill and what’s the result? The potential for more top-shelf trickery — and, perhaps, a well-deserved “Whaaa?” As part of the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act) signed into law last month by President Obama, the IRS is now required, versus permitted, to use private collectors to help recoup owed tax debt. See Section 32102 …

Scam-Proof 2016 With These 7 Simple Steps

Happy New Year! Start 2016 on the right foot, with these simple steps to reduce your risk of scams: Freeze your credit file. The best way to proactively prevent identity theft (as well as minimize damage after it occurs), a credit freeze restricts access to your credit report. Without being able to review it, most creditors won’t issue loans, credit cards or other credit in your name – helpful when your personal data falls into the wrong hands, whether resulting from …