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

Ransomware: $18 Million and Counting … in Only 15 Months

Catherine Heslep was logging off Gmail when her computer was hijacked, another victim of ransomware. “Your files have been encrypted,” the message on the screen proclaimed. “You will not be able to access them without an encryption code.” “The cost for the code was 60 bitcoin, which translates to $700,” she says. Getting no response, the cybercriminals issued another ominous warning the next day: “If you don’t believe us, pick five files and we’ll decrypt them to prove it. You …

10 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft When Traveling

Planning summer vacation has its headaches. But enjoying it can cause the migraine of identity theft. Being from out of town means being out of your element – and makes you more vulnerable to scams. Here’s how to protect yourself. Stick with one credit card. Tourists are easier prey for sleazy store clerks and restaurant employees who capture credit card numbers with cellphone cameras or pen and paper and then make fraudulent purchases. If not paying with cash when traveling, …

Mac Attack (and More): The Latest in the Tech Support Scam

For six years, telephones have been ringing off the hook with alarming but bogus news: There’s a dangerous virus on your computer, and the caller – a self-described technician with Microsoft, “Windows” or an antivirus software company – says he can remove it … for a price. But now, it’s not just PC users at risk for the notorious tech support scam. Mac users (and the machines themselves) are also vulnerable – and this time, fix-it fraudsters don’t even have …

‘Missed’ Jury Duty Verdict: Easy ID Theft

In the Phoenix area, the callers claim to be from the U.S. Marshals Service. In Huntsville, Ala., it’s a self-described “deputy marshal” with the sheriff’s office who has already scammed at least 53 people in recent weeks with this threat: You failed to report for jury duty and now have to face a judge … and jail time. Although it’s been around for 10 years, the “jury duty scam” remains one of the most successful fear-provoking impostor schemes, both for …

As Debit Card Theft Hits 20-Year High, How Safe Is Your ATM?

While breach-fatigued retailers work to reduce the theft of their customers’ plastic-payment data, scammers have turned their focus to stealing card details at the ATM. During the first four months of 2015, stealing debit card info at automated teller machines hit a 20-year high, reports credit score firm FICO, which also monitors roughly two-thirds of America’s debit cards. Compared with the same period in 2014, skimming attacks increased threefold at ATMs not located at banks and 174 percent at on-branch …

Don’t Get Soaked With a Flood Car

If you’re car shopping, you can live hundreds of miles from the type of flooding that recently ravaged parts of Texas and still get soaked. Each year tens of thousands of cars are damaged by floods to the point of being deemed a total loss by insurers; yet more than half wind up for sale, often on distant dealer lots, reports vehicle-tracking service Carfax. After insured owners are paid off, these so-called flood cars are hauled to a salvage yard, where they are supposed …