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Tax season scams target seniors online

Tax season is upon us, which means it’s also tax scam time. As more and more seniors plug into technology, they’re falling victim to scammers who target older adults. A local expert explains how to recognize scams and keep yourself and your loved ones safe during tax time.

Why seniors?

Anyone can fall victim to a scam, and indeed, people in all age groups do. However, according to the National Council on Aging, those 65 and over are at the most risk for becoming victims of financial scams.

Why? “Seniors are easy targets for a number of reasons,” explained Marianne Bailey of Kettering. Bailey’s business, The Senior Tutor, empowers older adults to embrace technology, as well as stay safe from scammers. Generally speaking, the older generation’s mindset is, “if they feel like they have done something wrong, they want to correct this as soon as possible. When scammers are yelling at them, this confuses them, and they rush to do the right thing without thinking that someone might actually be scamming them.”

In addition, younger people more familiar with technology often know which red flags to watch for, whereas a senior may not.

Last, but certainly not least, “seniors also have the most expendable money in all the age groups,” Bailey said. Although a growing number of seniors are on fixed incomes, the National Council on Aging indicates that the perception of wealth is all that matters to scammers.

Commonly used scams

Scammers strike all year long, but tax season is a good time to be especially wary. According to the Ohio Attorney General’s office, more than 1,400 IRS scams were reported in the first two months of 2016 alone. Most were IRS phone and email scams or identity theft.

Bailey said, “The biggest IRS scam is a phone scam where a person will receive a phone call from an ‘IRS agent,’ who will be very demanding. They will tell the person that they owe past taxes and that these and past fees are due immediately. They often threaten to call the police have them arrested, deported or licenses revoked if these fees are not paid immediately, usually by prepaid debit card or a wire transfer.

“This urgency created by the scammer scares the person into thinking impending doom is upon them,” Bailey said.

However, as more seniors become savvy to the phone scams and also go online, the threat is changing. “Sometimes these threats come in from email and more recently, via social-media outlets,” Bailey saidd. “The scammers will usually spoof their caller ID, create fake badges and ID numbers in order to convince their targets they are indeed the IRS. They even have detailed information about them such as name, address and often relatives’ names.

“All this information can be obtained about people on various social media websites, such as Facebook. Scammers will also email official looking documents to people on IRS letterhead, making them believe the scam even more. This is called a phishing email.”

Red flags

If you receive a call, email or social media message from someone claiming to be the IRS, think before you panic. The IRS does not call or email taxpayers, and it definitely doesn’t Facebook them. “The IRS will not call you to ask for your information. They already know all your information,” Bailey said. “They will not call you and demand payment. They will snail-mail you a letter telling you what you owe, and give you a chance to question and refute their claim.”

Also be wary of language used by the person contacting you. “If a message is urgent, or sounds too good to be true, take great caution in this,” Bailey advised. “Anytime anyone contacts you demanding money, or threatening to call authorities, hang up. Do not give them any of your contact or banking information. The IRS or other financial institutions simply do not operate this way.”

Help for victims

Unfortunately, scammers are extremely experienced in financial crimes, and people do fall victim. What should you do if you or an older relative have been scammed? First of all, don’t be embarrassed. Both Bailey and the National Council on Aging suggested that financial crime is underreported for that reason.

If you or someone you know receives one of these messages, report it to both the U.S. Treasury and Federal Trade Commission, Bailey said. You should also choose a reputable accountant to prepare your taxes – often they will catch an instance of scamming if there’s something off with their client’s financial status. Your local law enforcement agency can direct you further as well.

Also, be sure to avoid giving out personal information – contact info, Social Security and banking info, and relatives’ names – online, and if you do e-file your taxes, use a reputable, well-known website with an encrypted server.

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