Millions of Americans fall prey to scams each year. Staying alert and knowing where to report financial exploitation helps stop scammers from claiming more victims. Here are three tips to keep you up-to-date on scams that are making the rounds right now.

1.         Beware the (fake) IRS

Scammers know that taxes strike fear in the hearts of men and women. Exploiting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) name and function is one way that scammers have been able to get people to open their wallets.

Two types of IRS scams have been making the rounds in the past year:

  • Email “Phishing” (as in “fishing for information”). Scammers send phony e-mails that claim to come from the IRS and tell victims that they are due a tax refund. The victims then provide their personal and financial information, which can be used to steal their identities.
  • IRS-impersonating phone calls claiming to be from IRS employees, using fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about their targets, and use a Washington, DC area code (202) to seem like the IRS really is calling about unpaid taxes. The scammer may even threaten victims with arrest or, in the case of immigrants, deportation unless they pay up immediately.
    It’s important to remember that the real IRS never initiates contact with you via phone call, email, or through social media. The IRS cannot threaten to have you arrested or deported for not paying taxes. Here’s how to tell if it really is the IRS approaching you with a tax issue.

You can send any suspect correspondence to phishing@irs.com and let the FTC know. If you get a fake IRS call, hang up immediately and report it to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.

2.         You won’t pay for your new Medicare card

You may have heard that, beginning this spring, Medicare will be sending out new cards out to all beneficiaries. The new card removes the current Social Security-based identifying number and replaces it with a random number/letter sequence that helps to reduce identity theft and fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns against scammers posing as Medicare “agents” or health care providers telling seniors they need to purchase a replacement card. The new Medicare cards are free, and everyone with Medicare will be mailed a card between April 2018 – April 2019. The only action you need to take is to ensure Social Security has your current address, as the new cards will be sent to the address in their files.

If you’ve been solicited by a possible Medicare scammer, report it by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477), or submit as complaint online to the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

3.         Recognize how scammers make you pay

Whether it’s a phone call from someone impersonating a grandchild in trouble, or a plea for a donation to a fake charity capitalizing on a recent disaster, one of the quickest ways to spot a scam is by recognizing how you are being asked to send money.

The FTC warns consumers that if someone says you can only pay by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, or loading money onto a cash reload card: that is a scam. (See video below for more information.) Hang up the phone, throw that email or flyer away, and report it to the FTC to keep yourself and others safe.

By Brandy Bauer, National Council on Aging