Less than a month before taxes were due, J. Russell George, treasury inspector general for tax administration (TIGTA), issued a warning to taxpayers: Beware of phone calls from people claiming to represent the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The individuals calling, said George, are scammers—criminals who had successfully swindled more than $1 million from thousands of victims.
For older adults, these fraudulent calls are simply the latest in a long line of scams they must be wary of. Those 55+ are common targets for scams, whether by phone, online, mail, or by another method, for a number of reasons. According to the National Association of Triads—a partnership of law enforcement, mature adults, and community groups that promotes safety for older people—these reasons include:
- Availability: If you are retired, chances are you tend to be at home more often and are, therefore, more likely to answer the phone.
- Isolation or Loneliness: If your family or friends have moved away, you may have less interaction. This can make you more vulnerable to friendly cold callers or unknown people who ring your doorbell.
- Prosperity: Through your life, you’ve likely acquired some wealth, which may include property, life savings, and other assets. Your wealth makes you a more attractive target to scammers.
The most effective way to protect yourself from becoming the next victim of a scam is to be proactive. Start by familiarizing yourself with commonly used scammer tricks. Then, take the following steps offered by the National Association of Triads to further scam-proof your life right now:
- Shred documents like bank statements, credit card statements and offers, and other financial information that could be useful to scammers. Store tax filings, car titles, and any other documents that need to be preserved in a safe deposit box.
- Add yourself to the National Do Not Call Registry. If you receive any unsolicited calls, hang up immediately.
- Post a “No Solicitation” notice by your front door to ward off fraudsters who may be trolling your neighborhood.
- Sign up for scam alerts offered from the Better Business Bureau (BBB). New alerts will be sent to your email.
- Find trustworthy people who can serve as additional eyes and ears in screening suspicious people or materials. Turn to family members, close friends, long-time neighbors, or trusted professional caregivers, like those from Kendal at Home.
In addition to these steps, always check with the Better Business Bureau before you act on a phone call or piece of mail or agree to a visit from a stranger, business, or charity. Before giving to a new charity, make sure it is registered with the state attorney general.
If you do fall victim to a scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed. Immediately report your situation to the proper local law enforcement authorities, and then close any accounts that have been affected. Additional steps include filing a federal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), initiating a fraud alert on your credit history, and contacting your local Better Business Bureau. For more details on what to do if you have been scammed, see page 17 of the Senior Fraud Protection Kit.
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