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How to Protect Seniors from Tax Scams

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Who wouldn’t be frightened by receiving a warning email from what looks like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). So when you get that panicked call from an older adult, you should let them know the IRS would not send them an unsolicited email. “Scammers know that taxes are a sensitive issue so they’ll take advantage of that,” said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance.

“Cyber criminals are always going for the money and taxes are about money,” he added. “Being able to get into someone’s tax account has a couple of opportunities for cyber criminals including access to a wealth of personal information such as name, address and Social Security number. Secondly, tax information is the type of information scammers can monetize. That’s why it’s so important to protect.”

In a survey conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, 9 percent of American seniors said they may have been the victim of criminals posing as IRS representatives.

Two consumer organizations now have tools that help individuals including seniors report suspected scams and help locate where scams are being perpetrated. Check out the Better Business Bureau’s scam tracker  and AARP Fraud Watch Network’s scam-tracking map.

According to AARP’s Fraud Watch Network and the Better Business Bureau, one of the current scams being perpetrated by both email as well as mail involves a false request for taxes due. Jim Hegarty, President and CEO of the BBB serving Nebraska, South Dakota, The Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa advises, “In this scam, the ‘representative’ may try to pressure seniors into paying a fee by using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, and if they don’t pay up immediately, the ‘IRS agent’ will sign a warrant for their arrest. No matter how much the caller threatens, don’t fall for it.”

How Tax Scams Can Work:

  • Your senior receives an official-looking letter from the IRS saying they owe taxes related to the Affordable Care Act. The notice is labeled CP2000 for the most recent tax year. The letter instructs payment be sent to the “IRS” care of an Austin, Texas, post office box.

What you should know:

  • If the IRS issues a notice under CP2000, it’s when income or payment information doesn’t match the information reported on a tax return.
  • A legitimate notice will provide a number to call and a way to resolve the issue.
  • Payments would not be to the “IRS,” but to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

What you can do:

  • If your senior gets a notice such as this, but you doubt its integrity, contact the IRS at 1-800-366-4484.
  • If your older adult gets such a notice via email, delete it; IRS will not reach out to anyone by email, nor will they call demanding payment.
  • Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint center.
  • If your senior receives the fake IRS letter, you also can report it on the Fraud Watch Network’s scam-tracking map.

The Better Business Bureau scam tracker also has seen an uptick in IRS-related scam attempts on the organization’s scam tracker. According to Hegarty, “Tax imposters often go to great lengths to seem realistic. Over the phone, the scammer may provide a fake badge number and name. Emails often use the agency’s logo, colors and official sounding language. BBB’s advice is to hang up on the caller or delete the email.” Here are some examples to help your senior watch out for. These are actual cases reported to the BBB:

1)     Caller said a lawsuit was being filed against my husband. Needed to talk to only my husband and, when I said we file jointly so I could help them, they said it was just against him. I said I thought it was a fraud and they hung up very quickly.

2)     Two days in a row this week the "IRS Case Officer" from "D.C." called to let me know that "the Legal Department of the IRS was filing a lawsuit against me." Phone message said to "Press 1" to get to my "case officer" or to call a 206 area code number.

3)     I received an automated call with a call-back number in the 502 area code. The caller claimed to be from the IRS and said I had a pending lawsuit. When I contacted them a man with a very thick accent whom I could barely understand said I had a lawsuit pending. I told him I did not and not to call my house again.

4)     A caller left a message that the IRS was filing a lawsuit against me. So I called the number back for fun and they asked for my account number. I said they never gave me one so the man asked for my Social Security number, and I said I would never give that over the phone and he hung up on me. So I called back again and this time he answered Internal Revenue Service and I said, “Wow, you’re getting more professional this time.” I told him to not call me, and that I was reporting him to the BBB.

Kaiser warned that telephone calls can lead to online scams as well. “Scammers could call and tell the senior, ‘if you don’t make an online payment now, we’re going to report you to the police.’ That threat of an immediate crisis could cause fear and anxiety, and tempt an older adult to take unnecessary action.”

Tiffany Couch, a forensic fraud expert, also advises family caregivers to warn seniors to screen their calls. “If you don’t know who is on the other end of the line and there’s any delay on the phone when you answer, hang up the phone right away.”

Last revised: February 8, 2017

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