In an article by USA Today, an IRS impersonation fraud victimizing thousands of Americans, leads the U.S. Senate to rank the Top 10 scams targeting senior citizens.
Dubbed by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration as the most pervasive impersonation fraud in IRS history, the swindle involves suspected scammers based in the U.S. and India who telephone Americans and threaten arrests unless purported tax debts aren't paid immediately.
Separately, 1,680 people contacted a toll-free hotline established by the Senate Special Committee on Aging (1-855-303-9470) and reported they were contacted or fleeced by the scam in 2016. The total — more than twice as many as any other complaint — ranked the fraud first in the panel's annual report, ahead of sweepstakes scams, robocalls, elder financial abuse and grandparent scams, the committee reported at a Wednesday hearing.
Though the numbers are relatively small, the findings generally align with complaints consumers filed with the Federal Trade Commission. A review of more than 5 million fraud and other complaints filed with the FTC in 2015 and 2016 showed that consumers aged 60 and over primarily complained about imposter scams, along with telemarketing practices and tech support scams, according to FTC testimony prepared for the Senate hearing.
Testifying by video at a committee hearing Wednesday, 81-year-old Phillip Hatch of Portland, Me. said he lost $8,000 to IRS impersonation scammers who threatened "the marshals will be in your house within an hour" unless he paid what they claimed were overdue taxes.
Seniors accounted for nearly 33% of the 766,034 consumers who reported their age in 2016 complaints filed with the FTC. In all, financial exploitation cost older adults at least $2.9 billion in 2010, according to a report by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
"The criminals who prey on our seniors are relentless," and continue harassment "until they have drained every last penny" from their victims' savings, said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., who heads the Senate committee.
Frauds that made the Senate aging committee's 2017 rankings include:
- Sweepstakes scams, run by perpetrators who contact victims by phone, tell them they've won a financial prize, and then require advance payment of a fee to collect the purported winnings.
- Robocalls, using advanced electronic technology that enable would-be scammers to maximize the number of potential victims reached.
- Computer scams a fraud in which callers impersonate representatives of well-known technology companies and convince victims to allow remote access to their home computers to check for problems. The scammers then charge fees to remove purported electronic viruses.
- Elder financial abuse, in some cases involving relatives or friends who gain access to victims' identification data, bank accounts or other records.
- Grandparent scams, a con game in which fraudsters phone with phony claims that a grandchild is in trouble and needs help paying a hospital bill, returning home from overseas or gaining release from jail.
Sick and tired of the IRS scam? Relief is here
The IRS, Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services never make phone calls asking for bank information or Social Security numbers.
The Senate report advised seniors and other Americans to never give out personal information by phone and always keep personal and financial documents secure.
People who suspect they have become victims of identity theft should call companies where the fraud occurred, place a fraud alert with national credit reporting agencies, notify the Federal Trade Commission and file a report with local police departments.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc