When the IRS starts calling...
I was going door to door letting residents know about an afternoon program that was about to start. I had gotten halfway through the apartments when I approached Mary’s* door, it was ajar and I could see her frantically tearing her room apart searching for something. When I mentioned that I was about to start a program, she told me she was “much too busy” to come out. The IRS had called her earlier that day, she needed to send them all her financial documents immediately. My first thought was, she may not have interest in today’s afternoon program but I quickly realized she was being scammed! I spoke with the aides on her floor, and together we convinced her not to mail all her documents to the “IRS”. In the end, we were able to prevent her from a terrible financial loss. Multiple residents came forward in the next few days complaining about receiving the same call.
According to David Finn, the Executive Director of Microsoft’s Digital Crime Unit, internet scams “victimize an estimated 3.3 million people and rake in $1.5 billion annually. This translates to a victim nearly every 10 seconds, with an average loss of $454 per consumer.”
Technology has endless benefits. It serves as an intergenerational bridge in many cases, and keeps families and friends constantly connected, but it is important to stay aware of scams in their many forms. These scams take advantage of new found interests in technology, combined with inexperienced users. According to USA News, “Folks age 65 and older are more likely to be targeted and to lose money if they are targeted.” The group most likely to be victimized are well-educated men over the age of 55 because, “they’re savvy, they think they know how to protect themselves and get taken.”
Here are some common phone and internet scams to watch for and ways to prevent your loved ones from falling victim to cyber-crime.
- The “Grandparent Scam”
This is a fairly common scam because there is a big payoff with minimal work. One may receive a call that starts out something like “Grandma it’s me” or “Hi Grandma do you know who this is?” Prompting the target to guess a name of a grandchild which the scammer will latch onto and use to fabricate a story. They might say “I need help with rent for the month, but I don’t want to bother Mom and Dad, can you help?” or “I’m traveling abroad and got in trouble- I need you to send me money, but please don’t tell my mom and dad.” This scam is troubling because it tugs at the familial heart strings.
What can you do to keep from falling victim? Stay informed! Check that the person calling is who they claim to be. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that only that person would know. More than likely, because the scammer won’t be able to answer, they will hang up. You should never be afraid to verify a story.
- Fake antivirus software
In this scam, pop-ups appear on your computer, telling the user their computer is infected and the only way to get rid of the virus is by clicking on the pop-up. In doing this, the user ends up downloading a real virus when they never had one to begin with.
Stay vigilant. You should never download anything from the internet or click on any email links or attachments unless you are positive of the source.
- Computer Technology Scams
You may get a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft, McAfee or another technology company. The person may ask for permission to get remote access to your computer for “tech support”. To receive the tech support you may be asked to provide a credit card number, or be directed to a site to enter personal information. Be aware solicitations like this may also come in email form as well!
Know that companies like Microsoft are not constantly monitoring your computer, looking for problems. If someone contacts you about a problem with your computer, it’s most likely a scam.
According to the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, seniors are disproportionately targeted for computer technology scams. In October 2015, the FTC testified to Congress that 18,000 tech-support scam complaints were received in the first eight months of 2015! 56% of the victims were more than 60 years old.
- IRS scam
In this scam, taxpayers will get a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS. The caller will tell them money is owed and demand immediate payment. Failure to comply will result in arrest, deportation or loss of driver’s license.
Note: Generally, the IRS DOES NOT call people, they send letters. If anyone calls saying they are from the IRS-hang up!
- Sweepstakes/Lottery Scams
An additional scam to mention is typically not technology based, though it can be. It will often arrive, claiming you are the winner of a sweepstakes or lottery you don’t even remember entering. Be aware - no, you are NOT that lucky. These letters might say something like “Congratulations, you just won the lottery”, with a request to deposit a large amount of money into your personal account. The only hang-up is that you need to immediately wire money into a foreign account to cover various taxes and administrative fees.
This is a scam, if you are ever lucky enough to win the lottery or any kind of sweepstakes taxes will be taken out before you receive any of the winnings.
*Names changed for privacy