Every year, thousands of people of all ages fall victim to dishonest people out for money. Seniors are often targeted because scammers believe seniors are likely to have a savings nest egg readily available.
These scams usually start with a phone call, with the person on the other line asking you to send money. The reasons given vary, as we will soon see, but these callers can sound very persuasive and legitimate.
It’s important to be aware of these calls, and to remember that just because someone sounds genuine doesn’t mean they’re telling the truth. Let’s look at some of the most common scams, and how to protect yourself in case they come calling:
IRS IMPOSTER: Someone calls claiming to be from the IRS and states that you owe a tremendous amount in back taxes and penalties, and if not paid immediately, you’ll be subject to prosecution or arrest. Victims are instructed to pay by credit card, wire transfer, certified check, or even in gift cards.
Protect yourself: The IRS always sends letters about back taxes owed before calling anyone. And, a real IRS agent will never ask for immediate payment or threaten legal action. If you’re still unsure, contact the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.
MEDICARE BENEFITS: Callers will say you’re entitled to a refund and ask for your bank account number in order to deposit it. There are also callers who tell you that you’ve qualified to receive a free medical device but need to provide your Social Security number for enrollment verification.
Protect yourself: Medicare representatives contact people by first-class mail. They won’t call to enroll you in a drug plan or ask for payment over the phone. If you have any concerns, call the customer service number on the back of your Medicare card.
FISHING FOR NAMES: In this situation, someone calls you and says, “Hey, grandpa (or grandma), guess who this is?” in hopes you’ll respond with the name of one of your grandchildren. After “confirming” their identity, the caller will tell you he’s in trouble – maybe he’s been in an accident or has been arrested and needs money. Whatever the reason, the person will beg you to send them money for help.
Protect yourself: Ask the person on the phone some basic questions only your grandchild would know, such as the name of a family pet. Or say you’ll call them back and then call your grandchild or another relative to verify the situation.
SWEEPSTAKES WINNER: A caller contacts you with vague details about a sweepstakes you may have entered at a mall, or a restaurant, or anywhere – but more importantly, you won! All you need to do to collect your prize is send a few hundred dollars to cover taxes and processing fees.
Protect yourself: Legitimate sweepstakes never require you to pay fees to collect your prize. And if you can’t remember entering the contest, there’s probably a good reason for that – you didn’t!
If you get one of these calls, or one that sounds similar, always remember that most legitimate companies won’t ask you for payment information over the phone. Try not to take what they say at face value; instead, ask questions, be persistent, and don’t give out your personal information ever. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to hang up!
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