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Seniors are prime targets of IRS impersonation fraud. How to protect yourself


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  • Ron Long, director of regulatory affairs and elder client initiatives at Wells Fargo Advisors, tells seniors how to safeguard their financial security and steer clear of scam artists.




Okay, let’s start by defining the terms: What exactly is “IRS impersonation fraud”?

This scam involves fraudsters impersonating an IRS agent via phone, email or text in which they threaten arrest from law enforcement or use other scare tactics until a purported tax debt is paid immediately — often through gift cards or wire transfers.

April 15 was deadline day for tax filers. Is the problem of elder financial crimes still a serious concern months later?

Yes. Scammers that solicit these false claims often assert that a tax debt is past due. These types of scams target consumers year-round, and in some cases, use April 15 as a starting point for their targeting.

How can you tell if you’re being victimized and what do you need to know to prevent it?

Frankly, the first indication is the phone call or email itself. This method of communication is not used by the IRS to deal with taxpayer issues. A failure to tell you have rights to dispute the claim is a secondary indicator, as well as any suggestion that you will be arrested. But first and foremost, the initial contact is your best indication you are being scammed.

As for elder financial abuse more broadly, telltale signs that something might be fraudulent include: Someone insisting you take immediate financial action and discouraging you from consulting with others before purchasing or paying for something ... The IRS will never call to ask for money or immediate payment. These types of communications are provided via writing and in the mail.

Is there an average age or a relative age range for the victims of this scam?

This scam is aimed at all ages, but elders and immigrants are a prime target.

This is clearly a nationwide phenomenon. How bad is it in Manhattan?

I don’t have numbers on IRS fraud in New York City specifically, but we do know 13 percent of New York’s population is older than 65, and that seniors are targeted often because they have accumulated significant wealth or are vulnerable because of isolation and/or cognitive or physical decline.

What do we know about these fraudsters? Do they operate individually? Do they belong to organized rings?

This fraud is committed both by major crime rings working out of office buildings, some based overseas, and individuals.

Do they often get caught, prosecuted and convicted or have they largely managed to elude law enforcement?

There has been some success, breaking up a major ring in India and a significant recent Justice Department announcement of over 200 arrests, several involving IRS fraud. But underreporting is a major issue as it relates to elder financial abuse broadly — only one in 44 cases are being reported. In order to catch the bad actors, we have to know you were targeted.

What do you do if you feel you’ve been victimized?

If you receive a call regarding taxes you feel is fraudulent, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484. If you feel you’ve already fallen victim, reach out to the state attorney general or your local district attorney. They are on the lookout for these scams, and your case may provide the missing link to catching the fraudster.

Does the scam artist leave any kind of information or digital fingerprints that can lead to apprehension?

These crimes are difficult, but remember, the bad guy has to surface at some point to collect the money. It is a global financial system and mobility aids the fraudster, but all information such as phone numbers, destination for the funds and other information can be a part of the forensic puzzle.

Are known cases of IRS Impersonation Fraud increasing?

According to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, IRS impersonation fraud was the No. 1 fraud targeting seniors in 2017. As elder financial abuse continues to increase [generally], we anticipate the number of fraudsters using this tactic will also increase ... Estimates are that nearly one in five Americans 65 and older have fallen victim to elder financial abuse.

What steps can be taken to prevent this?

Maintain security over your tax records. Let a trusted contact know where to find it. Write down the information/number of the “alleged” IRS agent. If you have questions, call the IRS. Do not call the number of the alleged “agent.” Tell your family or a trusted contact immediately if you receive an IRS call.

There are also actions individuals can take to protect themselves from elder financial abuse: Talk with family members about financial plans and seek counsel when a situation seems suspicious. Update legal documents like wills, an advance healthcare directive and powers of attorney for financial matters and health care ... Avoid isolation through social activities.





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