This past month was Fraud Prevention Month. On March 11, AARP applauded Congress for passing the bipartisan Fraud and Scam Reduction Act. The legislation, endorsed by AARP, is designed to address the pervasive increase and growing problem of scams and financial exploitation that threatens all Americans, older Americans in particular.
“AARP is at the forefront of championing laws and regulations that prevent financial exploitation against seniors and empowers consumers to protect themselves,” said AARP Executive VP and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond. “Scammers use a wide range of increasingly sophisticated tactics and opportunities to steal money or sensitive personal information, so our nation’s laws need to keep up. The Fraud and Scam Reduction Act includes important protections that can benefit all Americans.”
The Fraud and Scam Reduction Act will establish a Senior Scams Prevention Advisory Group to prevent scams that target seniors. The Advisory Group will create educational materials and information on model programs to guide retailers, financial services and wire-transfer companies on prevention.
Additionally, it would create an office within the Bureau of Consumer Protection to advise the Federal Trade Commission about preventing fraud targeting seniors and assist with monitoring for mail, television, internet, telemarketing and robocalls targeting older Americans. The bill was passed as part of the bipartisan 2022 omnibus appropriations bill, which now goes to the president to be signed into law.
Before coming to AARP and attending graduate school, I used to work for a small accounting and income tax preparation company. One of the calls we would frequently get from our clients was regarding the Internal Revenue Service calling them for unpaid taxes.
A person impersonating an IRS agent had called them and said that if they didn’t pay their unpaid taxes immediately, they would be arrested. We would reassure our clients that the IRS almost never makes calls directly, and that they communicate mostly through mail. This is true even for unpaid taxes.
From October 2013-March 2021, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration logged more than 2.5 million reports of these types of scam calls, with some 16,000 victims collectively losing more than $82.6 million.
Here are some helpful Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to this scam.
- Do hang up immediately if a caller claims to be from the IRS, unless you have reason to believe you really do owe taxes, such as prior written communication from the agency.
- Do forward any unsolicited emails in which someone claims to be from the IRS or the Treasury Department to email@example.com. Do not click on any links or open attachments.
- Do ask for identification if you’re visited by someone claiming to be from the IRS. Actual employees carry two official credentials: a “pocket commission” and an HSPD-12 card, a standard ID for federal workers. An IRS employee will provide, on request, a dedicated agency phone number for you to verify the information on the card.
- Don’t provide or confirm personal or financial information over the phone to someone who claims to be a government official.
- Don’t respond to a purported IRS email or text message asking for your information. The IRS doesn’t do that.
- Don’t agree to pay a tax bill with a gift card, prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Scammers prefer these methods because they’re difficult to trace and can be used almost anywhere.
Since 2013, AARP has provided the AARP Fraud Watch Network as a free resource for people of all ages. You can visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network website by going to https://www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. There you can find information on scams like the IRS Imposter Scam and resources to help you to know what to do.
You can sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails that deliver information about scams, or call a free helpline at (877) 908-3360 to report scams or get help from trained volunteers in the event someone falls victim to scammers’ tactics.
AARP has also been partnering with financial institutions and the retail industry to help stop fraud through its BankSafe Initiative. BankSafe is an innovative training platform that helps financial professionals identify and stop suspected exploitation. Since its inception, BankSafe-trained staff have already stopped more than $100 million from being stolen from older adults. To learn more about AARP’s BankSafe Initiative, visit https://www.aarp.org/ppi/banksafe/.
Scott Tanaka is a member of the JACL Washington, D.C., chapter and is a policy, research and international affairs adviser at AARP.