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Telephone Tax Scam Targeting Seniors

As tax day approaches, criminals posing as IRS agents are taking to the phones to try to scam senior citizens out of their retirement money. Elder law attorneys at Pintas & Mullins detail how the telephone scam works and how to protect your loved ones.

The Fraud Watch Network recently issued a press released outlining this new and wide-spread scam, which has already taken over $1 million from tens of thousands of taxpayers. Scammers call citizens, targeting older individuals, pretending to be IRS agents and demanding tax payments using wire transfers or prepaid debit cards. The fake agents threaten legal action against the person on the phone if they refuse to pay.

The caller is typically listed as ‘private’ on caller IDs, and some may even know intensely personal information like the last four digits of the victim’s social security number. Some even follow-up on the victim with an official-seeming email to convince them that they do indeed owe money to the IRS.

Some of the tax victims were recent immigrants, which scammers took advantage of, threatening to have them deported if they refused to pay. Similar tactics would be used against elderly victims, who may be unaware that the IRS typically communicates with taxpayers through the mail.

How to Protect your Loved One

Remind your aging loved ones that, if they are concerned about any owed back taxes, they should call the IRS themselves, at 1-800-829-1040. Also remind them that the IRS and other government agencies would never require a wire transfer or prepaid debit card payment, and would never threaten someone with deportation or drivers’ license suspension like these scammers are currently doing. Government agencies would also never request PIN numbers or banking passwords over the phone.

Many people with elderly parents want to believe their mom or dad is still “all there,” or at least competent enough to recognize scams like this. Unfortunately, even the most highly-educated and intelligent seniors are prone to lapses in judgment, especially when victimized by clever criminals.

In some cases, such as with those with advanced dementia, scammers may be able to get large sums of money out of seniors. If you recognize this happening to your elderly loved one, it is possible to obtain Power of Attorney over them to protect their funds and livelihood.

A Power of Attorney is a legal document giving the agent (typically a son or daughter of the elderly person) the right to act on behalf of that person. This can be limited to a specific event, like selling of a house, or during a specific time frame, such as while that person is receiving medical care. It can also be used specifically for medical decision (called a Health Care Power of Attorney) or, in this case, for financial concerns.

It is absolutely necessary, however, that the elderly person has full mental capacity when they sign the Power of Attorney in order for it to be valid. If this is impossible, other alternatives are available, such as going through court proceedings to be named a legal guardian or conservator. Therefore, it is often best to talk to your aging parents while they are still fully understanding about the possibility of becoming their Power of Attorney, should they ever develop a cognitive condition like dementia.

Other common telephone scams involve “winning” lottery tickets or other prizes. The callers can get incredibly personal, using Google Maps to threaten the victim’s physical wellbeing or manipulating caller IDs to make it appear as if a government agency is actually calling.

Our team of elder law attorneys understands that talking to your elderly loved ones about their financial wellbeing may be somewhat uncomfortable, but it is in everyone’s best interest. It is okay to be nosey, to ask questions, or request copies of bank statements, but it is equally important to be respectful. If you have any questions about suspected abuse or mistreatment of an elderly person, contact our firm immediately. Our legal consultations are always free, confidential, and available to concerned families nationwide.