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How to Avoid Fraud

Elderly woman, in shock, looking at computer

Did you know that “fraud is one of the top crimes against older Americans” according to the U.S. Department of Justice website? If you’ve ever received a suspicious phone call, email, text message, or letter claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Agency (IRS), or from the Social Security Administration (SSA), then you’ve been a target of scammers.

But how do you know if the person on the other end of the line isn’t who they say they are? Scammers know how to play to emotions, while in other instances will play to your fears–keep in mind: the IRS and SSA will never threaten you! Unfortunately, seniors and older adults are easy targets for fraudsters looking to impersonate the Agencies for a quick payday that could land you in serious financial trouble.

Let’s first look at the Types of Fraud out there.

Easy Ways to Spot a Scam

…and how to fight against them.

  1. Credit/debit. If they are asking for any kind of personal or financial information (including your credit card number, bank account number, or passport number) this is a scam! Also, never hand a card over in a store. Swipe or insert it yourself and shield the pin to avoid people “skimming” your card.
  2. Online phishing. Be aware when you’re providing the above personal details online, as well. Even if a website is legitimate, hackers have their ways. Ensure you have strong passwords and never share them. Also, look for the little “lock” icon next to the “https” and make sure there’s an “s” on the end of “https”. Most importantly, if you get an email, even from one of your contacts and it feels suspicious, never ever click on the links or attachments!
  3. Identity Theft. Shred and/or throw out credit card statements, and any paperwork that has your name, address, and personal details on it. Putting these together, someone going through the trash can easily assume your identity and take out fake credit card accounts.
  4. Fake charities and Jackpots! Ever gotten a call that your Microsoft account isn’t working (yet you don’t run Microsoft) or you won a free trip…but don’t remember entering any draws? Sure, you may have forgotten, but we bet that this is 100% fake, especially if they’re asking for a credit card down payment or eTransfer/bank transfer! The same goes for fake charities soliciting money. Always, always ask the person for the registered charitable tax number to confirm their status with the IRS before handing over cash.
  5. Pyramid schemes. Investing in a promising-sounding start-up may feel like it’s the ticket to a worry-free retirement—but it’s probably the quickest way to all the worries. Heed your internal alarm bells that nothing is easy, especially the way to financial freedom paved by “the easy way”.

Never be afraid to ask for a second opinion if you’re not sure. It’s a small moment compared to years of potential financial ruin. You may feel like you’re not a target because you’re not extremely wealthy, but con artists could steal small amounts from several people to the same end. They may call you, or they might even come straight to your door in person.

Some additional tips to keep you safe from scammers

Think the IRS or SSA is “after you”? Think again.

Here are a few things the IRS and SSA WILL NEVER DO:

  1. Ask for your information (personal or financial) through an email or text message link.
  2. Ask for payment via prepaid credit or gift cards.
  3. Leave your personal information on an answering machine.

If you believe you may be the victim of a tax scam or have given your personal or financial information out, please contact your local police non-emergency line.