Tax season and tax scams often go hand-in-hand. Scammers will try to steal tax documents, money and even a person’s identity, and seniors are often their prime target.
“Con artists will target anyone, but older adults are targeted at higher rates because criminals go where the money is, and older adults have the majority of wealth because of their years of hard work and savings,” said Amy Nofziger, Director of Fraud Victim Support at the AARP. “Plus, older adults have not grown up with the technology of today, which has grown so fast.”
“Older Adults are often targets because they are going through life transitions and scammers can be very convincing,” added Rachel Coates, Director of the Arlington County Agency on Aging. “Awareness is critical.”
While numerous scams abound, there are some that are currently more prevalent than others. “The complaints we hear…is the IRS phone scam,” said Stacy Northrop of the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs. “This is where the caller will state that a warrant of arrest has been issued for the victim.”
“The crook will claim that the recipient is in trouble for not paying enough in taxes or not filing properly,” added Eric Friedman, Director of the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection. “Crooks instill a sense of fear and urgency, then they’ll trick the consumer into wiring money or paying over the phone with a prepaid gift card. Consumers make quick decisions that they wouldn’t make if there wasn’t a sense of urgency.”
Some of the features commonly thought to be safeguards may not be so, says Friedman. “You cannot trust Caller ID to tell you who’s really on the other end of the phone,” he said. “Caller ID is of no value because crooks can say anything over the phone. They can have IRS as the name that appears to make it look official.”
Telephone calls and emails are two warning signs of a scam.
“This is not how the government actually operates,” said Nofziger of AARP. “You would always first receive a letter from the IRS, and they would never threaten you with arrest or use foul language. If you receive this type of call, hang up the phone.”
Fraudulent emails and websites can be created to look as though they are from a government agency. “Many older adults are unaware that criminals are lurking on what we consider innocent websites or apps, like “Words with Friends,” Instagram or other social media platforms,” said Nofziger. “This is why education and warning people about the red flags is crucial.”
Identify theft is also prevalent during tax season, says Friedman of Montgomery County. “Crooks will steal someone’s social security number and file [taxes] really early, like in January or February, before the consumer files their return,” he said. “When the consumer really does file, the IRS rejects it. When the problem is reported, the IRS will have to investigate, which takes months to resolve, which is not good if you’re getting a refund.”
Scammers seek to obtain money from a victim, often in the form of wire transfers or cash, says Nofziger. “It’s important to know the red flags of scams,” she said. “Even though the scam tactics might vary, the criminals’ demands never change. They want money or personal information. So if anyone calls, mails, emails or texts you asking for money, that is a red flag. If they ask you for personal information such as your Medicare number, Social Security number or financial information, it’s a huge red flag.”
For Help and More Information
- AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/FraudWatchNetwork. AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline and our trained fraud specialists can help walk you through it: 877-908-3360.
- Free Help at Montgomery County Libraries: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/volunteercenter/Resources/Files/taxaideflyer.pdf
- Tax ID Theft Awareness Week: https://www.idtheftcenter.org/tax-identity-theft-awareness-week-2020/
- Arlington Adult Protective Services 703-228-1700
- Fairfax County Silver Shield Anti-Scam Campaign https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/familyservices/older-adults/fairfax-county-silver-shield-anti-scam-campaign