Of the approximately 2,500 scams reported to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s fraud hotline in 2015, the most prevalent involved harassing telephone calls from fraudsters identifying themselves as agents of the Internal Revenue Service and falsely accusing seniors of owing back taxes and penalties.
These “IRS impersonation scams” top a list of the 10 most common scams reported to the committee last year. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who chairs the bipartisan committee, released the list on Wednesday, along with a free, 40-page resource booklet aimed at educating and protecting seniors and their families.
“Putting a stop to these disturbing scams targeting our nation’s seniors is among my highest priorities as chairman of the Senate Aging Committee,” Collins said in a written statement. “I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that seniors and their families become aware of their techniques and take action to protect themselves and their loved ones from these heartless criminals.”
In order of prevalence, the top 10 most common scams reported last year were:
— IRS impersonation scams: Callers harass victims for unpaid taxes and penalties.
— Jamaican lottery/sweepstakes scam: Victims are told they have won a large amount of money and must send a check to process the award.
— Unsolicited and nuisance phone calls: Typically in the form of recorded “robo-calls,” this scam uses computer technology to telemarket fraudulent products and services and gain access to victims’ personal information.
— Computer scams: Scammers gain remote access to seniors’ personal computers by reporting a supposed problem with their security settings or other functions.
— Identity theft: Scammers gain access to victims’ Medicare, Social Security or financial information.
— Grandparent scams: Victims are told a grandchild or other relative is sick or in trouble and needs money immediately.
— Elder financial abuse: Family members, caregivers or trusted others improperly or illegally use elders’ money, property or other assets.
— Government grant scam: Victims are told they have been awarded a “government grant” and must send money to pay the taxes on it.
— Romance scams: Scammers set up fraudulent profiles on dating sites and persuade love-struck victims to send them money.
— Home improvement scams: Fraudulent door-to-door contractors or handyman services pursude homeowners to pay them upfront for work they will never do.
The resource booklet provides detailed information on each of these scams as well as eye-opening, real-life stories of con schemes, several reported by Mainers. It also gives tips for identifying likely scams, encourages seniors to consult with family members before responding to any demand for money and provides instructions for taking action if people suspect they have been targeted.
The booklet can be downloaded and printed from the website of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging or ordered through the mail by calling Collins’ Washington, D.C., office at 202-224-2523 or any of her in-state constituent offices.
Seniors who receive a suspicious phone call, computer contact or door-to-door solicitation, or who suspect they are the victim of fraud or a scam, can file a report at the aging committee hotline at 855-303-9470.