Phone & Mail Scams

Some of the most common and recognized scams involve the telephone or traditional snail mail. Fake IRS demands, misleading investments, fraudulent government program notifications and unexpected prize winnings can easily lead fast-moving seniors towards a quick, but costly response.

Government or Debt Collector Impersonation

A call or letter comes in claiming to be the IRS, local law enforcement or a debt collector. They claim you owe back taxes and they’re going to “charge you” if you don’t pay them now. Or, they need to “confirm” your social security number before discussing a sensitive issue. Then, they take your information— and steal your identity or your money.

Signs & Tips

  • The IRS or Franchise Tax Board (FTB) never demands any specific type of payment Immediate tax payment is never a requirement, as appeals and questions are always a taxpayer’s right. Neither will threaten to bring in local police or immigration office.
  • Social Security, Medicare and the VA will never threaten you with arrest, legal action or SSN suspension or ask for payment over the phone. They will never ask for personal details or banking information, unless you have called them directly or have ongoing business with them.
  • If the caller seems unprofessional or the letter doesn’t look right, trust your gut. More likely than not, it’s not a real government entity reaching out to you. If you receive a letter from Social Security and are not sure if it is real, you can verify it by calling 1-800-772-1213. Likewise, the VA can verify at 1-800-827-1000 and the IRS can at 1-800-829-1040.

Fake Prizes or Investments

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. With these scams, you may learn you have “won” a grand prize, whether monetary or experiential—like a cruise or vacation—but first you must “cover” taxes or processing fees. Or you’re told that a certain stock or cryptocurrency is a “sure deal” that will pay out—then they run away with your money.

Signs & Tips

  • If you receive an unsolicited call or letter stating that you have won a sweepstakes, more likely than not, it is a scam. Most sweepstakes require you to enter in advance. Note, scammers may impersonate known organizations such as the Publishers Clearing House, so look out for signs of forgery, like low-quality printing or an incorrect logo or return address.
  • No legitimate sweepstakes, lottery or inheritance requires you to pay any funds up front in order to receive a prize. Claims that you must cover taxes or processing fees are always suspect. Taxes should always be paid on your annual tax return.
  • Any investment opportunity described as “no risk” with “huge returns” should raise red flags. All investments contain a level of risk and no investment can guarantee a return, let alone a huge windfall. Common investment scams involve cryptocurrencies, multi-level marketing (pyramid) schemes or investment in a third- party entity independent of your retirement account.

Robocalls and Other Common Scams

Auto-dialers can enable scammers to call thousands of phone numbers a day. When you answer a call, the caller may attempt to record your voice without your permission or will mislead you to disclose personal information with a convincing script.

Signs & Tips

  • If your Caller ID lists “unknown,” “blocked” or a number you are unfamiliar with regardless of the area code, ignore it and see if the caller leaves a voicemail. Most scammers want to reach a live caller.
  • Some scammers simply want to record your voice saying “yes” so that they can use the recording as a voice signature. Then, they can approve unauthorized charges on stolen credit. In these cases, they will ask “can you hear me” and then hang up after you have said “yes.” Try asking “who is this?” first to verify the caller’s identity before saying “yes” or just hang up.
  • Always be suspicious of any correspondence or phone call that forces a tight deadline, requires you to pay immediately (especially via gift card, wire transfer, cryptocurrency or Venmo), threatens you, offers anything too good to be true or claims a family member that is experiencing an emergency that requires a quick financial response.

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