Tax scams target unsuspecting seniors

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 13, 2009

By Joseph Ascenzi
The Press-Enterprise
Senior citizens are being warned to be on the lookout for income tax scams aimed at them.
Older people often have more money and can often be intimidated into parting with it, particularly if they believe they’re dealing with someone from the Internal Revenue Service or law enforcement, said Sharon Ludwig, spokeswoman for Home Instead Senior Care in Riverside, Calif., which provides non-medical care for seniors in their homes.
The most common income tax scam aimed at senior citizens involves someone posing as an IRS agent who says that, for a fee, the person being scammed can receive a higher tax refund.
After securing a “fee,” the con artist requests financial information from the individual ó an account, credit card or Social Security number, for example ó that is said to be necessary to secure the higher refund.
The perpetrator of the financial fraud then uses that information for identity theft.
“That’s one of the more common scams we come across this time of year, where they’re actually able to get money twice,” Ludwig said. “We’re expecting to see more of these things this year because the economy is so bad.”
“People should look out for their elderly neighbors as much as they can and report anything that might be suspicious,” Ludwig said.
Tax scams aimed at all age groups happen this time of year, IRS spokesman Raphael Tulino said.
“There’s no question the elderly are vulnerable to this kind of thing, but I don’t know if they’re more vulnerable than anyone else,” Tulino said. “Everyone needs to be aware of this. The best thing you can do is use common sense. If something seems to be too good to be true, then it probably is.”
Senior citizens can offer a “path of least resistance” for scam artists, said Michael Silverman, supervising deputy district attorney with the Riverside County, Calif., district attorney’s office.
“We see more scams against seniors than against any other age group,” said Silverman, who specializes in fraud and elderly abuse cases. “I hate to say they’re more vulnerable, but they are, because most of them have a nest egg stored up. They’ve had more time to save money.”