3 Tax Scams that Target Seniors (and anyone else, really)

October 26, 2020 by Robin Scott-Hutchens, EA
Mature woman at desk

We know our senior citizen population can be particularly vulnerable to being targeted by scammers looking for free money or personal information. Frequently, this stems from the fact that seniors tend to be the folks who still have and answer landline calls. Scammers also rely on seniors not being the most tech-savvy and hope they will click on links in emails and share information on their cell phones through calls or texts. Anyone can be a victim of nefarious attempts to steal your information, no matter your age. But those who are up to no good usually get a better return on their efforts from older generations.

Scammers trying to gather details or money usually take one of two approaches: scare tactics or the helping hand. Older people need to be vigilant on all fronts, but education is critical, so they know what to look out for.

Let’s take a look at three common scams:

  1. Your Social Security Number has been suspended or canceled. Victims receive a robocall stating there is suspicious activity on their social security account and then warns of suspension or cancellation of their social security number. The message says it is important for you to call back to remedy the situation. The idea is that you may be concerned about losing your social security benefits, especially if you are a senior. For people on fixed incomes, that can be a terrifying thought. Once you call back, the scammers have a pretty good feeling they have you on the hook and will ask you to “confirm your social security number” and then attempt to gather more personal details such as your full name, address, and possibly bank account details. What you can do: DO NOT call the number provided in the message. The Social Security Administration will never call you, so just delete the message and move on with your day.

  2. Calls from IRS agents stating you owe money, and it must be paid immediately. These are usually live phone calls from someone who will identify themselves as an IRS agent. They will provide a fake name and sometimes even a very official-sounding yet fake badge ID number. In a firm voice, the caller will state that you have an outstanding bill with the IRS that must be paid immediately. Their solution will be to pay this by wire transfer or with a prepaid debit/gift card. Sometimes they will take it further and threaten to send a sheriff or marshal to your residence if this is not taken care of immediately. Callers who get this far have sometimes scared people enough to get their bank routing and account number or a credit card number. What you can do: Hang up! The IRS will never call you to discuss taxes or payments unless you have agreed to a scheduled call ahead of time. The IRS will always send letters and bills through the mail. They won’t even email you, so don’t fall for it there either. If you happen to have a balance due to the IRS or if you are not sure, you can visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov to request an account transcript or to view any balance due you may have. You can also call the IRS at 800-829-1040 between the hours of 7 AM and 7 PM your local time. If you do call, be prepared for long hold times.

  3. Assistance with claims or donations related to natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires. These scams can take multiple forms and predators will try to reel you in by phone or through an email or a text. It all comes down to someone posing as a helpful agent from a charity, an insurance company or even FEMA while touting the tax benefits you will receive from your actions. If a link is sent through an email or a text, it may take you to an authentic-looking webpage where you can donate to a nonprofit collecting funds for disaster relief. Out of the kindness of your heart, you may make a nominal donation, sending money to the scammers directly. Even more sinister is if that link is also loading malware onto your phone or computer to record your keystrokes as you enter your bank account or credit card number. The other approach may come by phone or email where the scammer poses as an insurance or IRS agent ready to help you file a loss claim if you are the victim of a natural disaster. As you can imagine, this will involve sharing all kinds of personal information that can then be used to victimize you further. What you can do: Never click on a link in an unsolicited text or email. Hang up the phone if you receive a call asking for donations or assisting you with a claim. Suppose you wish to donate to a charity or natural disaster relief fund. In that case, you should contact that organization directly by phone or by going directly to their website. If you have been the victim of a natural disaster, contact your insurance broker or agency directly to file a claim.

Averting scammers can easily be done with vigilance. Do not return robocalls related to social security account information. Hang up on phone calls demanding credit card or bank account information for IRS payments. Delete emails or texts from unsolicited sources asking for money or personal information or just trying to get you to click on a link. And if all else fails and you’re like my mom, ask one of your tech-savvy grandkids to take a quick look at an email or text if you’re not sure. You can be subject to these scam attacks no matter your age, so use these tips to keep your defenses up and protect your private information.

Tags: scammers, scams



Karen Reed, EA


During her years as an audit representative for TaxAudit, Karen successfully defended the company’s members throughout the entire federal and state audit processes, handled cases assigned to US Tax Court, and developed procedures to make the audit process easier for taxpayers. Karen attributes a great deal of her tax acumen to the six tax seasons she spent as a return reviewer, analyzing thousands of returns. Responding in writing to questions from taxpayers, she became familiar with the common mistakes self-preparers make. Karen was previously the manager of the Tax Education and Research Department and the Director of Communications at TaxAudit. Her tax advice has been featured in U.S. News and World Report, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other publications.


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