Every year around this time, the IRS issues a warning about scams that attempt to victimize taxpayers and steal from them. More often than not, the victims of these crimes are senior citizens. The scams have varying levels of sophistication. From simple - such as calling on the phone and posing as an IRS agent - to sophisticated phishing scams that attempt to get taxpayers to reveal information that can be used to hack key user accounts. There are a few steps that senior citizens can use to stay safe from fraud:
- Use caution on the phone – Never give personal information over the phone. If you receive a call from your bank stating that they suspect fraud, hang up and call your bank’s number directly. Never give away information such as social security numbers, usernames or passwords.
If you receive a call purporting to be the IRS, chances are high it’s not them. The IRS will not call you to inform you that you are delinquent on your taxes. Nearly all contact with the IRS is handled via the U.S. mail. Do not trust caller ID names and phone numbers. Sophisticated hackers can impersonate or “spoof” these numbers so they appear to be from legitimate sources.
- Use caution online – Many seniors lack the technical sophistication to identity online scams (don’t feel bad, many young tech-savvy folks fall victim every year too.) Never open an email attachment sent by someone you don’t know. If an email is from someone you do know, but contains strange characters or is written in broken English, do not open attachments.
Use antivirus and malware software and keep it up-to-date. Make sure you regularly update your computer’s operating system and applications.
- Subscribe to a credit monitoring service – One of the best tools in preventing identity theft and fraud, is to subscribe to a credit monitoring service with real-time alerts. These services can notify you if someone takes out a loan or opens credit in your name. Some services will even scan sites that buy and sell stolen personal information and notify you if your identity has been compromised.
- File taxes – Many seniors fall under the threshold for filing income taxes. File them anyway. It’s one of the best ways to discover if someone has filed a fraudulent return in your name.
- Monitor accounts – Be sure to look over bank accounts and credit card transactions for suspicious activities. Notify your bank or credit card company with any suspicious transactions. Look for unfamiliar, small, repetitive charges that are likely to “slip under the radar.”
- Shred mail and paperwork – If you have old mail or paperwork that contains personal information, shred or burn it. Hackers and identity thieves love to get their hands on these types of documents and use them to hack your accounts.
- Be cautious of care-givers – The sad reality is the majority of cases of elder fraud are perpetrated by persons known to the victim. Family members and paid care-givers should not be given access to funds or important papers unless they are designated as their power-of-attorney. In cases where a power-of-attorney or fiduciary relationship has been established, the philosophy of “trust but verify” should be followed.
When it comes to preventing fraud, a little precaution goes a long way. If you or a loved one believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft or fraud, contact your Zinner accounting professional. We offer services to help you with these difficult circumstances.