Beware of Scammers During the COVID-19 Crisis
Tax season is always primetime for scammers to take advantage of unknowing victims. The COVID-19 outbreak makes the risk even higher. As part of the efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, the elderly, especially those over the age of 80 who are most susceptible to the dangers of the virus, have been asked to self-isolate themselves. At the same time, the public has been asked to assist family, friends and neighbors who can’t do their own their grocery shopping, pick up medication, or need other assistance.
Unfortunately, there are those among us who would take advantage during this crisis. For instance, someone pretending to be a neighbor may call and offer to provide assistance with grocery shopping. Or the caller might pretend to be from a charitable or government service that provides shopping services for those confined at home.
These crooks are clever, so you have to be very cautious. If you don’t know the person, don’t give them your credit card number or any other personal information such as your Social Security number, driver’s license, bank information, passwords or other financial information. If you have doubts, you can always pay the person after they have delivered your groceries, prescriptions, etc. Anyone who is willing to help in this capacity shouldn’t be worried about paying and then getting reimbursed.
If you are a family member of someone who is confined at home and might not be aware of their risk of being scammed, please take time to call them and caution them about the risks.
This might also be a good time to discuss other means scammers use to steal your identity or separate you from your money. One of the most popular methods these unscrupulous people use is requesting your personal information by e-mail. They are pretty good at making their e-mails look as if they came from a legitimate source such as the IRS, your credit card company, or your bank.
You need to be very careful when responding to e-mails asking you to update things such as your account information, personal identification number (PIN), or password. First and foremost, you should be aware that no legitimate company would make such a request by e-mail. If one does, the e-mail should be deleted and ignored, just like spam e-mails.
We have seen bogus e-mails that looked like they were from the IRS, well-known banks, credit card companies, and other pseudo-legitimate enterprises. The intent is to trick you and have you click through to a website that also appears legitimate, where they have you enter your secure information. Here are some examples:
- E-mails that appear to be from the IRS indicating you have a refund coming and claiming that additional information is needed to process the refund. The IRS never initiates communication via e-mail! If you receive this type of e-mail, you should know right away that it is bogus.
- E-mails from a bank indicating that it is holding a wire transfer and needs your bank routing information and account number. Don’t respond. If in doubt, call your bank.
- E-mails saying you have a foreign inheritance and that the sender needs your bank info to wire the funds. The funds that will get wired are yours going the other way. Remember: if it seems too good to be true, it generally is.
We have seen cases where elderly individuals have been duped out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes their entire life savings. The scammers primarily rely on individuals’ fear of the IRS, coupled with a phony urgent need to make a payment to avoid arrest, foreclosure, or property seizure.
We could go on and on with examples. The key here is for you to be highly suspect of any e-mail requesting personal or financial information or requesting an immediate tax payment. Scammers will generally request payment be made by gift card, which should be an immediate RED FLAG!
A good rule of thumb is to STOP—THINK—DELETE.
Knowing that this is the time of year when the IRS sends correspondence to taxpayers, scammers will send fake letters to trick people into making payments on bogus tax liabilities. As a result, taxpayers need to be very careful to avoid being hoodwinked by these thieves. The best practice is to have a tax professional review any letter that you receive before you take any action. If the letter is real, then it will require a timely response, but if it is fake, it should be ignored.
Scammers have also been known to call individuals and threaten immediate arrest if a payment related to a phony liability is not immediately made. Just the threat of arrest is enough to know that the call is from a scammer, and you should immediately hang up.
Bottom line: you must be on guard against these scammers at all times. Don’t be a victim.