If someone walked up to you on the street and demanded to know your social security number, your birth date or your credit card number, would you give it to them? Most people would probably say no. But what if someone sent you an email or called you on the telephone asking for the same information? Far too often, people willingly give up those important details, only to discover later on that someone has stolen money from them. Telephone and online scams continue to grow, and more people become victims every day. To protect yourself, as well as family members (especially elderly parents and grandparents), it's important to keep up on the latest scams and know what to do if the call or email comes.

As Consumer Reports explains, many scams involved someone pretending to be a IRS agent, a relative in need of emergency help, bill collectors or contractors. All are variations on a similar theme, in which the caller or emailer asks for sensitive information up front, such as social security numbers or bank details. The phony IRS agent may threaten you with jail if you don't pay a fictitious back tax penalty. The fake contractor could demand a down payment before doing any work. One scam "hires" you for a nonexistent job, says you need to by "supplies" to start the job and runs off with your financial information. In any case, giving information to anyone who calls you out of the blue is probably a bad idea.