senior tax scam awareness

Senior Tax Scams Awareness

February 6, 2019

In 2018, the IRS warned taxpayers of a 60 percent jump in email phishing scams around tax season. Unfortunately, many are not aware of this issue and the senior community is at a higher risk. With tax season upon us, it’s important that seniors and caregivers are educated on these scams and taught what can be done to limit risks. 

Seniors are using technology more today than ever before. Although they are becoming more technologically capable, it’s still important to monitor their activity. 

What to Look For
It’s important to understand what information is considered sensitive and sought after by scammers such as:

  • Usernames & passwords
  • Pins
  • Social security numbers
  • Credit card numbers
  • Account numbers
Even your home address could be information that a scammer considers valuable, as they can use this to file a tax return in your name in hopes of receiving your refund. Any login credentials could lead to a data breach whether it be for an email, social media account or your own desktop.

Cybercriminals disguise themselves in many ways, but there are signs that you can look for to know that you are not dealing with an authentic institution.

  • Be on the lookout for typos. Criminals will oftentimes misspell words and use poor grammar. 
  • Lack of professional appearance. The graphics included in the email or website will more often than not look cheap, out of date, or generic. 
  • Check the sender’s email address. The email address should match the identity of the sender. Some fishing attempts use an email address that is similar, but not the same as, a company's official email address.
Never give out your personal information without verifying the source of the email. If you come across a bogus email do not reply and delete the message immediately from your inbox and trash.

Online Scams at Tax Season

While e-filing your taxes is easier in many scenarios, it introduces a new list of threats. You may receive a look alike email from what appears to be an e-filing site like TurboTax titled “Have You filed Your Taxes Yet?”, and because you use TurboTax it seems legitimate. You may also be thinking, “I use a different e-filing service, they must be after my business”. Either way, they assume that because it’s tax season, it seems completely reasonable. 

If one of these emails tricks you into clicking on a link, it is likely that they will direct you to an unsecured site. Unsecured means that the information you enter on the site is not being protected by encryption. You can decipher if the site is secure or not by carefully examining the URL. If the beginning of the URL says “https” it’s the first signal that it is secure, “s” standing for secure. If it only says “http” the site is unsecure. Any e-filing tax site or financial institution will always be securely encrypted and will include the “s” in “https” portion of the URL. Most browsers also use a padlock icon (locked or unlocked) to signal if the site is secure or not. 

Unsecured Networks are Risky
It is also possible for cyber criminals to obtain your information without you providing it. A network can also be unsecured. When using an unsecure network like many public wi-fi’s, cybercriminals can eavesdrop and view all of your online activity. Whether this eavesdropping leads to a data leak ultimately depends on whether or not you release any personal information during the session. A good rule of thumb to avoid this is to never access any bank, personal, or login information when using public wi-fi’s or any unsecured networks. This is why it is important for assisted living centers and nursing homes to offer secured wi-fi.

Using a trusted antivirus or VPN (virtual private network) will help ensure that these data breaches do not happen. Leading security experts advise that creating multiple layers of defense is the key to thoroughly protecting your information. Antivirus software protects you by scanning your device and detecting and removing any current threats that may have infected your computer via emails or downloads, as well as warn you of risky sites. VPNs give you access to encrypted servers located all over the world that provide you with anonymity on the web and prevents eavesdropping. 

Phone Scams at Tax Season
Another common form of tax scams seniors fall victim to are phone scams claiming that they owe thousands to the IRS and must act immediately. These types of scams are meant to scare seniors into quickly cooperating. The first sign that these calls are phony will be that the voice is prerecorded or robotic sounding. Next, if you have not been contacted via any other source citing your specific name or numbers with their same claim, this is definitely a scam.

Any of these instances are meant to lead to data breaches which ultimately result in identity theft. Contrary to popular belief, purchasing identity theft protection does not prevent identity theft from occurring. However, it allows you the peace of mind that if it occurs you are able to recover from damages. Comprehensive protection from securing your devices, to using safer internet practices will drastically limit your risk.

All of these concepts can be confusing to seniors, which is why they are common targets for scammers. Discussing these risks and developing a plan with your senior loved one is the best way to keep them safe. Whether it’s offering aid in answering emails or filing their taxes, seniors will benefit from having a caregiver that is aware of these risks and is able to implement the proper precautions to keep them safe this tax season.