If you’re like hundreds of thousands of Americans, you’ve gotten them. Official sounding phone calls from someone proclaiming they are from the IRS or even the FBI.   They claim you are guilty of things like overdue taxes, or they are collecting a fine because you have not properly registered for insurance coverage. Or maybe they are just claiming to be updating their records. All you have to do is to supply your Social Security number, your bank account information and/or your credit card information and all is well. Right? Wrong.

The best advice: Hang up. The IRS or any government agency will rarely call you on these topics.

While anyone can be victimized by these criminals, they really like to prey on seniors who are scared into cooperating. These callers can be aggressive and relentless.  As an elder law firm, we encounter clients who have fallen victim to identity theft, making it crucial to understand the preventive measures that can safeguard against such threats. Here are some practical tips and strategies to help you protect yourself from identity theft.

 

 1. Shred Sensitive Documents

 

One of the simplest yet most effective ways to prevent identity theft is to shred documents containing personal information before disposing of them. This includes old bank statements, credit card bills, medical records, and any documents with your Social Security number. Identity thieves can easily sift through trash to find such information, so investing in a cross-cut shredder is a wise decision.

 

2. Secure Your Social Security Number (SSN)

 

Your Social Security number is a key piece of information that identity thieves seek. Avoid carrying your SSN card in your wallet or purse unless absolutely necessary. Be cautious about sharing your SSN, and inquire why it is needed before providing it. For instance, many businesses request SSNs, but not all of them actually need it for legitimate purposes.

 

3. Monitor Your Financial Statements

 

Regularly monitoring your bank statements, credit card statements, and other financial accounts is essential for detecting unauthorized transactions early. Sign up for electronic statements if possible, as they reduce the risk of mail theft. Report any suspicious activity to your financial institution immediately.

 

4. Use Strong, Unique Passwords

 

Create strong passwords for online accounts by using a combination of letters (both uppercase and lowercase), numbers, and symbols. Avoid using easily guessable information such as birthdays or family names. Consider using a password manager to securely store and generate complex passwords for each of your accounts.

 

5. Be Cautious Online

 

Exercise caution when sharing personal information online, including on social media platforms. Identity thieves can gather information from your posts and use it to answer security questions or even impersonate you. Review your privacy settings regularly and limit the amount of personal information you share publicly.

 

6. Beware of Phishing Scams

 

Phishing scams involve fraudulent emails, phone calls, or text messages that attempt to trick individuals into providing sensitive information. Be wary of unsolicited communications that ask for personal information or urge you to click on suspicious links. Verify the legitimacy of requests by contacting the organization directly using contact information from their official website.

A recent report from WTHR Channel 13 quotes Better Business Business Bureau President Tim Maniscalo saying that “Tax scams were number one on the BBB complaint list last year. More than 2,400 people received the calls.” These calls vary in what they are asking. Many of the most common this year are robocalls (sounding like a computerized voice) informing you that the IRS is filing a lawsuit against you that gives you a number to call. Respond and that’s where they get you – for sometimes very large sums of money. It can also lead to having your identity stolen.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes and the FBI is on the case more than ever before. The FBI said in a press release earlier this year, “A stolen identity is a powerful cloak of anonymity for criminals and terrorists…and a danger to national security and private citizens alike.”

Besides the phone calls, many unsuspecting people are being scammed with online emails claiming to be from government agencies like the IRS or FBI. None of these agencies will ever request personal or financial information by e-mail, text, or any social media. You should forward scam e-mails to phishing@irs.gov. Do not open any attachments or click on any links in those e-mails.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has urged taxpayers to remain on high alert. “Over the past couple of years, over 5,000 victims have collectively paid over $26.5 million as a result of such scams. The phone fraud scam has become an epidemic, robbing taxpayers of millions of dollars of their money,” said J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. “We are making progress in our investigation of this scam, resulting in the successful prosecution of some individuals associated with it over the past year. Over the summer, a ringleader was sentenced to more than 14 years in federal prison.  However, this is still a matter of high investigative priority.”

Many depend on caller ID to screen out unwanted calls, but that hasn’t stopped a wave of calls to Hoosiers claiming to be from the IRS.

The IRS generally first contacts people by mail – not by phone – about unpaid taxes and the IRS will not ask for payment using a prepaid debit card, a money order or wire a transfer. The IRS also will not ask for a credit card number over the phone. The callers who commit this fraud often:

  • Utilize an automated robocall machine.
  • Use common names and fake IRS badge numbers.
  • May know the last four digits of the victim’s Social Security Number.
  • Make caller ID information appear as if the IRS is calling.
  • Aggressively demand immediate payment to avoid being criminally charged or arrested.
  • Claim that hanging up the telephone will cause the immediate issuance of an arrest warrant for unpaid taxes.
  • Send bogus IRS e-mails to support their scam.
  • Call a second or third time claiming to be the police or department of motor vehicles, and the caller ID again supports their claim.

If you get such a call, immediately hang up and contact any of these numbers to help you: The IRS at (800) 829-1040.

  • Indianapolis FBI office (317) 595-4000.
  • Indiana Attorney General (317) 232-6201
  • Indiana Better Business Bureau (317) 488-2222

 

7. Review Your Credit Reports Annually

 

Under federal law, you are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once every 12 months. Take advantage of this by reviewing your credit reports regularly for any suspicious activity or inaccuracies. Promptly report any discrepancies to the credit bureau and the relevant financial institution.

 

8.  Secure Your Physical Mail

 

Mail theft is a common method used by identity thieves to obtain personal information. Retrieve your mail promptly, especially if it includes sensitive financial documents or statements. Consider using a locked mailbox or a post office box for added security.

 

9. Educate Yourself and Others

 

Stay informed about the latest identity theft scams and techniques. Educate your family members, especially elderly relatives, about the importance of protecting personal information and recognizing potential threats. Awareness is a powerful tool in preventing identity theft.

 

 

Protecting yourself from identity theft requires vigilance and proactive measures. By implementing these tips and staying informed about evolving threats, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to this devastating crime. As an elder law attorney, I encourage all my clients and readers to prioritize safeguarding their personal information and to seek legal assistance promptly if they suspect they have been targeted by identity thieves. Remember, prevention is key to maintaining your financial security and peace of mind.

 


This information is provided as a public service by the Stinson Law Firm. Our goal is to provide you with peace of mind and protection of your assets and loved ones for the rest of your life.

Our services include:

  • Asset Protection Planning
  • Medicaid Planning, Applications and Appeals
  • Veterans Affairs Pension Benefits Guardianships
  • Wills and Trusts Special Needs Planning Probate Administration

The Stinson Law Firm has years of experience in all of these areas. We can help you alleviate a lot of the stress and concern.  Our goal at Stinson Elder Law is to secure your present and future and leave you with the peace of mind you deserve. Contact us today.

 

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