Impersonating the IRS is the top scam targeting seniors in the U.S. according to the Senate Aging Committee's just-released 2019 Fraud Book.

That book was released during the Senate Aging Committee's just-held hearing -- Fighting Elder Fraud: Progress Made, Work to be Done.

Older Americans lose an estimated $2.9 billion a year to an ever-growing array of financial exploitation schemes and scams according to the Senate Aging Committee, which hosts a fraud hotline (1-855-303-9470) and website. Last year, the Senate Aging Committee's fraud hotline received more than 1,500 complaints of frauds targeting seniors across the country.

Of note, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt noted in his written testimony that it's estimated that only one in every 24 cases of elder abuse is detected or reported. "Despite that underreporting, statistically one in every 10 Americans age 65 or older who lives at home will become a victim of abuse," he wrote.

The other top scams according the Senate Aging Committee's 2019 Fraud Book included robocalls and unsolicited phone calls, sweepstakes scams/Jamaican lottery scams, computer tech support scams, elder financial abuse, grandparent scams, romance scams, Social Security impersonation scams, impending lawsuit scams, and identity theft.

It's well worth downloading and reading the book, reading the witness statements from the hearing, and watching the on-demand video of the hearing. For one, the book not only details the scams but provides tips on how to avoid and/or deal with the scams.

IRS Impersonation Scam

For instance, the book notes that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has called the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) impersonation scam "the largest, most pervasive impersonation scam in the history of the IRS."

According to TIGTA, more than 2.4 million Americans have been targeted by scammers impersonating IRS officials and more than 14,700 Americans have lost a total of more than $72.8 million from this scam.

So, what might seniors do to avoid the IRS impersonation scam? Well, according to the book, the IRS released the following tips to help taxpayers identify suspicious calls that may be associated with the IRS impersonation scam:

  • The IRS will never call a taxpayer to demand immediate payment, nor will the agency call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill to the taxpayer.
  • The IRS will never demand that a taxpayer pay taxes without giving him or her the opportunity to question or appeal the amount claimed to be owed.
  • The IRS will never ask for a credit or debit card number over the phone.
  • The IRS will never threaten to send local police or other law enforcement to have a taxpayer arrested.
  • The IRS will never require a taxpayer to use a special payment method for taxes, such as a prepaid debit card or gift cards.

The book also highlights tips on how to:

The Grandparent Scam

Witnesses for the hearing included Erika Flavin, the daughter of couple who lost more than $80,000 through the "grandparent scam." According to the 2019 Fraud Book, a common scam that deliberately targets older Americans is the "grandparent scam." In this scam, imposters either pretend to be the victims' grandchild and/or claim to be holding the victims' grandchild. The fraudsters claim that grandchild is in trouble and needs money to help with an emergency, such as getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill, or leaving a foreign country. Scammers play on victims' emotions and trick concerned grandparents into wiring money to them.

Read Flavin's testimony here.

Another witness, Judith Kozlowski, an elder justice consultant, noted in her written testimony that, understanding the vulnerability of an older adult and addressing the risk of elder financial exploitation is complicated.

"The two highest risk factors for elder abuse and financial exploitation are social isolation and cognitive impairment," she noted. "If we address those two factors in collaboration with law enforcement and public awareness efforts, we can build protective mechanisms in the prevention of elder financial exploitation."

And, Kozlowski noted, that "with the explosion of technology and the growing older population, we have little time to waste in developing and implementing strategies to address what is now an increasingly a global issue."

U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA) are the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, respectively.

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