Experts say avoiding scams requires sharp wits, vigilance — and the occasional socially awkward moment.

Jimmy Magahern | Aug 1, 2011, 10:53 a.m.

— Tami Nealy regularly does things that make her family and friends cringe with embarrassment.


Kircheimer, author of the book Scam Proof Your Life.

Like having her household shred the trash before taking it out to the curb. Or dutifully signing her son up for Little League but then insisting on paying the registration fee to the coach in person, and in cash, because the school’s website is too under-funded to use a trusted authentication service to secure its online payments.

“I’ve accompanied waitresses back to the register to watch them run my credit card after a meal,” Tami admits. “I was at an Applebee’s, and everyone’s looking at me. The manager comes over to see if everything’s okay, and I say, ‘Everything’s fine. Kara’s a great server, but I’m concerned about identity theft and I like to keep my card in my possession at all times.’ And I watch her run it through the cash register, hand it back to me, and then I’m back to my table with my family.”

Such obstinacy can cause mortified kids to take refuge behind the dessert menus. “Yes, I feel uncomfortable doing it,” Nealy says. “But when I go to bed, I have no question in my head about what happened with my credit card. Because I watched what happened.”

On the plus side, Nealy can proudly say she’s never been scammed, or cheated by con artists, who today seem ready at every turn to separate us from our money. She’s also become an advisor to her mom, now in her early 60s and among the age group most often targeted by scammers.

“She wants to feel she has her independence and can do everything on her own. But that’s actually one of the reasons seniors are targeted. They’re less likely to consult with somebody else because they’re determined to handle things themselves.”

For Tami Nealy, such vigilance comes with the territory. Nealy works at LifeLock, the Tempe-based identity theft protection company. As corporate communications director of the fast-growing five-year-old firm, she sees instances of attempted scams every day — many of them in her own back yard.

According to the most recent report on identity theft and fraud from the Federal Trade Commission, Arizona now ranks second in the nation, just behind Florida, in reported identity theft complaints per capita, and is the fifth “most scammed state” overall.

It’s no accident that Arizona and Florida also rank highest in retiree population. AARP reports that although people over age 65 comprise only an eighth of the U.S. population, the group makes up a third of all scam victims. The foundation’s research suggests that scammers target this age group because they’re able to exploit three main vulnerabilities that come with the natural aging process: memory loss, loneliness and a more trusting nature.

But there’s a fourth factor at work, too, Nealy suggests — albeit a bit more subtle one: the desire not to look like a crabby old curmudgeon. Let’s face it: asking lots of questions, trailing waitresses and spouting conspiracy theories about online shopping are quick paths to getting branded as a stubborn old codger. But those same codes of conduct may also save you from getting scammed.

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