With tax season just around the corner, hundreds of thousands of older adults can expect to encounter some type of attempted financial fraud, be it through the mail, electronically or by phone, resulting in millions of dollars in stolen funds.
While the types of confidence schemes used by criminals change over time, authorities and elder care experts agree there are simple guidelines you can follow to protect yourself and your loved ones this tax season.
1. Know the signs of a fake IRS Agent
One of the most common ways criminals defraud seniors is by posing as IRS or other government officials, claiming that the victim owes money to the government.
Criminal callers back up their claims of legitimacy by changing their phone number to look like a government number, provide phony badge numbers, and sometimes use the victim’s personal information like their name or address (gathered from public sources) in an effort to prove their “identity”.
These calls or emails will frequently demand the victim call back and pay a fine (typically with some sort of prepaid debit or gift card) or face arrest, eviction, revocation of their driver’s license or deportation.
If you receive this type of call, officials suggest you hang up immediately and call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040 report the attempt and/or learn if they actually owe the IRS any funds.
There are several telltale things a scammer might do that legitimate IRS representatives will not do.
The IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
2. Use Do Not Call/Email Registries
One easy way to identify fraudulent calls or emails is to eliminate as many legitimate-yet-unsolicited claims as possible. While these registries obviously only apply to legitimate organizations, it makes attempts by criminals that much more obvious.
Below are three registries that will eliminate the majority of these solicitations:
- The FTC National Do Not Call Registry will take your phone number off most call lists, allowing you to more easily identify possible fraud.
- The Direct Marketing Association also offers a Do Not Mail List that will prevent direct mailings.
- Finally, the four major consumer credit reporting firms in the US offer individuals the ability to opt out of pre-approved credit card offers, which can be intercepted by criminals and used to open lines of credit unbeknownst to victims.
3. Set up direct deposit for benefits checks
In some cases, criminals will target older adults by stealing benefits checks from their mailboxes and counting on the victim to be unaware or unable to report the theft. To avoid this, elder care experts strongly suggest setting up direct deposit for these benefits as a way to make check theft impossible.
4. Never give financial, medical, personal or payment information to anyone on a phone call you do not initiate.
This is the golden rule of avoiding telephone scams, as almost all telephone fraud involves individuals masking their phone numbers on commonly used caller ID systems.
In the event an organization, medical care provider or other individual calls you about some type of business or financial action that must be taken, simply ask for a reference number, the name of the organization and call the company directly with a number you find on your own, either off a legitimate document you have previously received or by going to the organization’s website yourself.
We at SelectCare hope our community finds this information useful. Older adults are all too frequently targeted by criminals and we believe no one should need to face these threats alone.
SelectCare has been helping New Yorkers live happier, healthier lives in their longtime homes for more than 30 years, providing the support they need to focus on what’s truly important in their lives. To learn more about SelectCare and how we help our clients overcome challenges great and small, call us today or request a free in-home care guide.