Illustration depicting a phone with a scam call concept.

Last September, in Seniors vs. Scammers, we warned you about the top scams that targeted seniors, and we showed you how to avoid them. Now that tax filing season has started, tax scam season has started too – 10,000 to 12,000 fraudulent calls are reported every week. Scammers get more creative every year, and since we are all (more than) a little afraid of the IRS, it’s easy to fall prey to one of these swindles. Every caregiver, homecare companion and loved one should know how to spot the tell-tale signs of a tax-season scam.

According to the IRS, there are three main ways that con artists will try to steal your personal data, your identity and ultimately your money this tax season.

  1. Fraudulent filing: someone else files under your Social Security number, and claims your return. Then, when you file your legitimate return, the IRS rejects it. A long process of proving your identity ensues, with no guarantee that you can claim your refund. The best way to avoid this scam: file your return early, so the tricksters don’t have a chance to file before you do.
  2. An IRS ‘phishing’ email: This email appears to be from the IRS, and it invites you to click to see your refund, or return, or something important. You will have to enter your Social Security number, of course, and even if you spot the scam before you do, just clicking on the link could have unleashed malware on your machine. The best way to avoid this scam: Know that the IRS doesn’t use email – they are snail-mail all the way. And they will never invite you to download files or click on links.
  3. The IRS phone scam: the number one scam, which thousands upon thousands of people have fallen for, is the phone call from ‘the IRS’. The ‘IRS agent’ will inform you that you owe thousands of dollars, and are about to be arrested or sued unless you pay immediately. In fact, police are on their way, or in your neighborhood, or coming by with a warrant. But, you can save yourself if you wire the $5,000 or $10,000 or even $20,000 to the Treasury Department right away. The best way to avoid this scam: Know that the IRS doesn’t contact people who owe money by phone; even if the caller has some details about you that sound right, keep your head and remember that the IRS wants a paper trail, and a phone call doesn’t leave tracks. So you can just hang up, without worrying that the police will knock down your door. Or, you can have some fun with your scammer, like this comedian did, when he was called last week by “the laziest, shoddiest grifters I have ever come across in my life.” And then he tweeted the story to the world..

When it comes to beating these modern swindles, the best method is to just delete the email, hang up the call and keep your personal data as secure as possible. If you do get a call or email, you’re not alone – thousands of people get calls every week, and these would-be criminals get more and more aggressive.  The Treasury Department has issued a warning about these scams that every caregiver, home care companion and senior should watch. The more you know, the safer you’ll be.