Retirement & Financial Planning Report

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Fraud against older persons, including scams in which federal agencies are impersonated, costs victims nearly $3 billion a year, says a report from the Senate Special Committee on Aging.

A Social Security impersonation scam is the most common one reported to the committee’s fraud hotline, it said, and an IRS impersonation scam came in seventh. That “involves scammers posing as employees of the Social Security Administration in order to fraudulently take money or obtain personally identifiable information (PII) from victims. In one common version of this scam, victims are told that their Social Security number has been linked to a crime and the situation can only be resolved by sending payment or PII,” it said.


An IRS scam had been at the top for years; in it, impersonators often accuse victims of owing back taxes that must be paid immediately and after an initial “payment” is made, con artists often convince victims to make additional payments to prevent arrest or other actions.

However, there has been a decrease in that scam as enforcement efforts by the IRS and the Justice Department have stepped up. Meanwhile the Social Security scam has been growing in frequency—complaints to the FTC more than doubled over 2018-2019—and recently expanded to include not just fake emails and phone calls but also official-looking documents purporting to be from the agency. The SSA and its inspector general’s office recently launched a new campaign against that scam, as well.

Also high on the list:

* robocalls and other unsolicited calls, some of which involve spoofing to make it appear that the call is coming from a federal agency;
* sweepstakes scams which aim to convince victims that they have won a large sum of money through the lottery, but must make up front payments for taxes and fees before collecting their prize;
* computer tech support scams in which callers claim to represent a well-known technology company in an attempt to convince victims to provide them with access to their computers; and
* the “grandparent scam” in which one of a pair of callers pretends to be a family member, often a grandchild, and claims to be in urgent need of money to cover an emergency and another impersonates an authority figure, such as a police officer pretending to confirm the story or defense attorney to make the request for money.

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