Live Safely - Protect Yourself from Scammers

All too often we read about or hear of an older friend or relative who has been the victim of an identity theft or scam. Scammers are smart and very creative and always thinking of new ways to take advantage of older adults. This article describes what, unfortunately, are some of the most common scams being seen this year.

IRS Impostors

This is a sophisticated phone scam that targets taxpayers and has swept the country the past few years. It is back again this year, worse than ever. A scammer posing as an IRS agent tells the victim that they owe money to the IRS and that it must be paid immediately, usually with a pre-loaded debit card or a wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are threatened with arrest (sometimes going so far as to say that the police are on their way to the victim’s house to make the arrest), suspension of a driver’s license or even deportation. The caller often becomes hostile and insulting if the victim resists. The caller-id screen on their phone may even say “Washington” or “Internal Revenue Service” - this is very easy to fake.

Protect Yourself: The IRS does not do business this way! They never call unless you are expecting the call. They will never ask for a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer or credit card number. They will never come to your house or send the police to arrest you. If you know or think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. Call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP to report the caller or go to Most important: do not give out any personal or financial information to the caller. Instead, hang up the phone!

Calls from Tech Support

This scam starts with a call from a person saying they are from Microsoft or a similarly reputable computer company. They say your computer has a serious operating problem and you need to download and run a fix, or you need to let them login remotely to fix your system. They often describe the problem with great urgency: your Windows operating system is corrupt and about to crash; you are sending out a large number of spam emails; your computer is infected with a virus. These scammers are very effective at scaring a victim into giving them the access they need to steal from them.

Protect Yourself: Microsoft tech support does not make unsolicited calls to computer users. The caller is trying to gain access to your computer so they can install a virus or other malware that will steal keystrokes and your personal information and passwords. Hang up the phone. Never download and run or install software in which you are not 100% confident. Contact the FTC to report the caller.

Grandchild in Trouble?

This scam begins with a phone call from someone saying they are a grandchild or other young relative in trouble because of a car accident, a drug arrest or something equally serious. These scammers are sophisticated and practiced at getting the victim to believe they actually are the victim’s grandchild. They say they need money for bail or to hire an attorney or they will be put in jail. The caller begs the victim not to call their parents and says they are their only hope. The caller always needs money - often a large sum - sent to them immediately by money order, a prepaid debit card or wire transfer.

Protect Yourself: Remain calm; don’t give any information to the caller. Ask the caller for more information, things that only a real relative would know. Get a call-back number. Verify with family members that the facts you have been given are true. Often, a scammer will just hang up when it becomes clear they can’t panic you into acting unwisely. Contact the FTC to report the caller.

Who Is REALLY Knocking at Your Door?

Ruse burglary is a scam in which elderly persons are often the targets. The scammer may pose as a utility worker, public official, police officer, firefighter, door-to-door salesperson, person, a person asking about working on the property, a surveyor, etc. He tries to draw the resident away from the door or out of the house on some kind of pretext. While the resident is occupied, an accomplice enters the home and picks up valuables such as money and jewelry. Thieves may also pick up papers with the intent of later committing identity theft. In a variation, the accomplice enters the dwelling by a second door while the resident is occupied at the other door.

Protect Yourself: Don’t open the door to a delivery or service person unless you are expecting a package or call. Check photo registration card before dealing with any solicitors, peddlers, interviewers, etc. Be aware of any person who says he or she is from a utility company and needs to enter your home. Have them wait outside while you call the company to confirm the problem. Never let a stranger enter your home to use the telephone. Call 911 if you have any question whether the person at the door is who they say they are; reputable companies understand and encourage this.

Home Care Aide Theft

Caregiver theft and scams occur when an aide hired to help an older adult with housekeeping, meal preparation or other activities of daily living steals money, possessions or identity from the person they have been hired to assist. Because they normally provide service alone in the home with their client, the potential for theft is always present.

Protect Yourself: Use a reputable caregiving agency. Illinois law requires that companies or organizations that provide home care aide services be licensed, bonded and insured. They are required to verify the aide’s identity and conduct a criminal background check. Ask to see the agency’s license and insurance certificate; reputable organizations never hesitate to provide them. Be very cautious when hiring an aide on your own. Talk to previous employers and pay a reputable firm to do a thorough criminal background check.

Be Protected – A Few Basic Rules

Never give someone you do not know any personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers or your Social Security number. Make it a rule never to give out these numbers over the phone - to anyone. Reputable people and companies will understand.

Call 911 when dealing with someone you believe may be a scammer.

Don't be easy prey. Be skeptical and suspicious, and act that way.

Stay informed. The AARP, Better Business Bureau and the IRS websites have information on the latest scams.


Better Business Bureau.....