With 97% of seniors active on the internet at least once a week, it’s no surprise that nearly a quarter of all seniors do their taxes online. Tax season provides a big window of opportunity for online fraudsters. Approximately one in 10 seniors reported being the victim of a scam in which someone posing as an IRS official called them and demanded immediate payment of taxes. Another 5 percent of U.S. seniors report being contacted by criminals claiming they had won a prize, such as the lottery, demanding immediate payment of taxes on the winnings.
One IRS scam being perpetrated by email (and mail) is an official-looking notice CP2000 for the tax year in question. Scam emails may direct that an immediate payment be sent. If you get a notice like this, delete it immediately and call the IRS at 1-800-366-4484. The IRS will never reach out to you by email nor will they call demanding payment. Stay up-to-date on current tax scams at IRS.gov.
Seniors are often targeted by scammers because of perceived accumulated wealth. In addition, once a senior has fallen victim to a scam, he/she is less likely to report the crime due to feelings of shame or embarrassment, according to the FBI. Over two-thirds of seniors have been the victim or target of at least one common scam or hack, and more than a quarter have downloaded a computer virus.
To help build the confidence you and your loved ones need to be protected online, Home Instead has partnered with the National Cyber Security Alliance to develop free tips and information. Seniors can also test their cyber security knowledge at www.protectseniorsonline.com by taking the online “Can You Spot an Online Scam?” quizzes.
In addition to tax scams, the experts at the National Cyber Security Alliance, Public Safety Canada (Get Cyber Safe) and the Better Business Bureau provide details on four more cyber scams that older adults need to avoid:
Tech support scams: These types of scams can appear as “pop-ups,” that show up on computer screen and look like legitimate offers from reputable companies. They could be selling fake software, asking for remote computer access, or install malware to steal personal and financial information.
Ransomware: This is a malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid. Prevent ransomware by ensuring your system has an up-to-date antivirus system. Also, never open spam emails from unknown senders, do not download attachments from spam or suspicious emails, and avoid clicking on links in suspicious emails.
False debt collectors: False debt collection emails often come as official-looking documents and the tone of the emails may be threatening and urgent. Do not respond, open any attachments or click on any links. Delete these emails. If you are concerned about whether you owe money, contact any creditors directly to find out if they sent the emails.
Sweepstakes scams: A sweepstakes scam often asks you to pay to receive your prize. Another version of this is a charity scam, asking you to help those in need. Sweepstakes and charities scams prey on emotions, and scam charities may have names similar to real charities. However, they usually cannot provide important documentation of their identity and mission, nor provide proof of tax-deductible contribution. If you believe the charity is legitimate, you can check it out by looking up the number and calling the organization.
For more advice on staying protected, visit http://www.caregiverstress.com/senior-safety/senior-fraud/.
Help the seniors in your life get protected online with these seven tips:
1. Password protect and secure devices, accounts. Lock all devices (including computers, tablets and smartphones) with secure passwords in case devices are lost or stolen. A strong password is at least 12 characters long with a mix of numbers, letters and symbols, void of personal information.
2. Consider two-step authentication for a second layer of protection. Check out the free options offered by many apps and websites or learn more at LockDownYourLogin.com.
3. Think before acting. When faced with an urgent request – like emails asking for money – encourage seniors to think before acting, or get a second opinion. Clicking on links is often how a scammer gains access to personal information. When in doubt, encourage aging adults to trash an unusual message.
4. Share with care. Over half (51 percent) of seniors surveyed by Home Instead use social media to stay connected. Encourage older adults to share personal information with care, adjust privacy settings to limit who can see their information and turn off location sharing.
5. Use security software. Help seniors install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and program it to run regularly. And be wary of pop-up ads or emails, many of which contain malware that can infect computers.
6. Log out. Recommend that seniors log out of apps and websites when they are done. Leaving apps and websites open on computer screens could make them vulnerable to security and privacy risks.
7. Recommend support. Aging adults who live alone may need help from a trusted source – such as a family member, tech-savvy friend or professional caregiver – to serve as a second set of eyes.