The difficult period we are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has a related, unsavory aspect: It has opened an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of people, especially seniors.
Criminals are even stealing Economic Impact Payments. EIPs are stimulus payments made available by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law on March 27.
Seniors are targeted more than others. If you yourself are a senior, or know someone who is, it’s important to know what to expect.
First, beware COVID-related phishing schemes. Watch out for emails, letters, texts and links that use keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “Stimulus,” warned the IRS in a release issued July 16 (“IRS unveils ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of tax scams for 2020”).
“These schemes are blasted to large numbers of people in an effort to get personal identifying information or financial account information,” said the IRS. “Most of these new schemes are actively playing on the fear and unknown of the virus and the stimulus payments.”
Second, if you are charitably inclined, be alert to fake charities related to the COVID-19 pandemic. These schemes “normally start with unsolicited contact by telephone, text, social media, email or in-person using a variety of tactics,” according to the IRS. “Bogus websites use names similar to legitimate charities to trick people to send money or provide personal financial information. They may even claim to be working for or on behalf of the IRS to help victims file casualty loss claims and get tax refunds.”
If you want to contribute to a cause, look up the charity to make sure it is legitimate. You can use the search tool on IRS.gov (tinyurl.com/y84b96ja). Scroll down the page until you see the “Tax Exempt Organization Search” blue box. Clicking on it will give you search parameters for finding an organization by name or by Employer Identification Number (EIN). From there you can determine if the charity is legitimate.
Third, watch out for telephone scams, or “vishing” (voice phishing). The scam calls can threaten arrest, deportation or license revocation if the victim doesn’t pay a bogus tax bill. They often take the form of a “robocall” (a text-to-speech recorded message with instructions for returning the call).
If the caller says he or she is from the IRS, be on the alert. The IRS will “never demand immediate payment, threaten, ask for financial information over the phone, or call about an unexpected refund or EIP,” said the IRS.
Fourth, if you, or someone you know, live in a retirement community or a nursing home, have you received your EIP?
In a June 16 alert to nursing homes and other care facilities (tinyurl.com/yc5p8aaq), the IRS stated that others might take advantage “of vulnerable populations who received the EIPs.”
These are only a few of the types of situations seniors need to be aware of. Read about the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for 2020 at tinyurl.com/y22l6nl5.
I also recommend watching this video: “Pick Six to Stop COVID-19 Fraud,” prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of New York: tinyurl.com/yy42jf7x.
Another resource is “Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft” (tinyurl.com/yd56ytru) and “Coronavirus Tax Relief” (tinyurl.com/ukv9vkh), both found on the IRS website.
If you are the subject of a coronavirus-related scam, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. The NCDF is an agency within the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.
Julie Jason, JD, LLM, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant Investment Advisers Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut) and award-winning author, welcomes your questions/comments (firstname.lastname@example.org). Please visit www.juliejason.com.
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