Identity theft, investment fraud and scams rob millions of Americans of their hard-earned money every year.

Con artists use a myriad of scams to steal your hard-earned money, including phishing scams, tech-support scams, gold coin scams, oil and gas scams, sweepstakes and lottery scams, grandparent scams and many more. Although their methods are different, research shows that the tactics scammers use are the same.

A timely new AARP survey shows that Maine consumers are not only unaware of certain “holiday” scams, but many are regularly engaging in behaviors which could put them at risk of being victimized by con artists.

For example, AARP’s survey found that 65 percent of Mainers who donated to a charity or fundraiser in the past 12 months did so without asking any questions about how that donation would be spent, and 61 percent made donations without verifying that the charity groups were legally authorized to raise money in Maine.

In addition, many holiday shoppers in Maine incorrectly believe that it is safe to access sensitive information via free Wi-Fi networks as long as websites are secured by “https.” In fact, online security experts warn that consumers should never use public Wi-Fi to access bank accounts or to buy products online.

One important step to take right away is to place a freeze on your credit report with all three major credit bureaus. This is the most effective way to protect yourself from identity theft and, thanks to a new law, placing the freeze is free. Call the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection or the Attorney General’s Office to learn more.

For more tips, read the AARP survey by visiting www.aarp.org/MEHolidayScamSurvey. There is a lot we can do to stay safe from scammers this holiday season, and this new survey is a great way to get started.

Jeff Fowler

volunteer, AARP Fraud Watch Network