At first, 82-year-old Steve was alarmed by the message he discovered on his voice mail. “The caller said the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) was filing a lawsuit against me. I called the number back 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. 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 (Better Business Bureau).”
Who wouldn’t be frightened by receiving a warning message that sounded to be from a government agency? Fortunately, Steve recognized the call as a scam. Other older adults have not been so lucky.
The Better Business Bureau has seen an uptick in IRS-related scam attempts in recent years like the actual incident that “Steve” reported. According to the BBB’s Jim 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 – actual cases from the BBB – to encourage seniors to watch out for:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Before seniors panic, they should know that the IRS would never send an unsolicited email or make a phone call. “Scammers know that taxes are a sensitive issue so they’ll take advantage of that,” said Michael Kaiser, former 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 surveyed said they may have been the victim of criminals posing as IRS representatives.
According to BBB, one of the current scams being perpetrated by both email as well as mail involves a false request for taxes due. The BBB’s Hegarty advises, “In this scam, the ‘representative’ may try to pressure someone into paying a fee by using a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, and if that person doesn’t pay up immediately, the ‘IRS agent’ will sign a warrant for an arrest. No matter how much the caller threatens, encourage your loved one not to fall for it.”
Fraud Protection Tools
Two consumer organizations now have tools that help individuals 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.
What Seniors Should Know:
- If the IRS issues a notice under CP2000, it’s when income or payment information doesn’t match the information reported on your tax return.
- A legitimate notice will provide a number for you 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 Family Caregivers Can Do:
- If your loved one gets a notice like this, but you doubt its integrity, contact the IRS at 1-800-366-4484.
- If a senior gets such a notice via email, encourage your loved one to delete it; IRS will not reach out by email, nor will they call demanding payment.
- Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint center.
- If a senior receives the fake IRS letter, your loved one also can report it on the Fraud Watch Network’s scam-tracking map.
Kaiser warned that telephone calls can lead to online scams as well. “Scammers could call and say, ‘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.”
Tell seniors: 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, experts note.