Corey J. Ohalek
Associate General Counsel
Vrable Healthcare, Inc.

Don’t Be Taken By Scams

As technology continues to evolve at breakneck speeds, so do the criminals who want to scam the elderly out of their hard earned money. Criminals continue to prey on unsuspecting seniors by various means including exploiting a person’s emotions. “The con man’s first and really only goal is to get you away from logic and into emotion and keep you there as long as possible,” explained Doug Shadel, AARP Washington’s state director.


The most common complaint of seniors in 2017 was scams in which fraudsters pretend to be employees of the Internal Revenue Service. “In IRS scams, criminals impersonate IRS staff and demand payment for back taxes,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), committee chair, explained at the hearing. “These scammers are absolutely ruthless when it comes to swindling seniors out of their money.”  These type of scams have targeted upwards of 2.1 million people and caused over 12,000 people to lose over $60 million between 2013 and 2017.


Another common scam that heartless criminals will attempt on seniors is the “grandparent scam.” This scam plays on a person’s heart by impersonating a loved one who is stuck in a terrible situation such as being in jail, robbed, injured, or in the hospital. The criminal’s hope is the person on the phone will hastily send money out of concern for their loved one’s well-being. As one victim stated “We like to think we are sophisticated people…..but when it comes to people we love, reason can go out the door.”  Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said studies estimate that seniors lose $3 billion each year in savings: “Our sacred responsibility is to take action so not one more senior loses one more penny.”


In addition to the scams mentioned above, the IRS recently listed its “Dirty Dozen” list of the potential scams for 2018, including:


  1. Phishing: Taxpayers should be alert to potential fake emails or websites looking to steal personal information. The IRS will never initiate contact with taxpayers via email about a bill or tax refund. Don’t click on one claiming to be from the IRS. Be wary of emails and websites that may be nothing more than scams to steal personal information.
  2. Phone Scams: Phone calls from criminals impersonating IRS agents remain an ongoing threat to taxpayers. The IRS has seen a surge of these phone scams in recent years as con artists threaten taxpayers with police arrest, deportation and license revocation, among other things.
  3. Identity Theft: Taxpayers should be alert to tactics aimed at stealing their identities, not just during the tax filing season, but all year long. The IRS, working in the Security Summit partnership with the states and the tax industry, has made major improvements in detecting tax return related identity theft during the last two years.
  4. Return Preparer Fraud: Be on the lookout for unscrupulous return preparers. The vast majority of tax professionals provide honest, high-quality service. There are some dishonest preparers who operate each filing season to scam clients, perpetuating refund fraud, identity theft and other scams that hurt taxpayers.
  5. Fake Charities: Groups masquerading as charitable organizations solicit donations from unsuspecting contributors. Be wary of charities with names similar to familiar or nationally-known organizations. Contributors should take a few extra minutes to ensure their hard-earned money goes to legitimate charities. has the tools taxpayers need to check out the status of charitable organizations.
  6. Inflated Refund Claims: Taxpayers should take note of anyone promising inflated tax refunds. Those preparers who ask clients to sign a blank return, promise a big refund before looking at taxpayer records or charge fees based on a percentage of the refund are probably up to no good. To find victims, fraudsters may use flyers, phony storefronts or word of mouth via community groups where trust is high.
  7. Excessive Claims for Business Credits: Avoid improperly claiming the fuel tax credit, a tax benefit generally not available to most taxpayers. The credit is usually limited to off-highway business use, including use in farming. Improper claims often involve failures to participate in or substantiate qualified research activities or satisfy the requirements related to qualified research expenses.
  8. Falsely Padding Deductions on Returns: Taxpayers should avoid the temptation to falsely inflate deductions or expenses on their tax returns to pay less than what they owe or potentially receive larger refunds.
  9. Falsifying Income to Claim Credits: Con artists may convince unsuspecting taxpayers to invent income to erroneously qualify for tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  10. Frivolous Tax Arguments: Frivolous tax arguments may be used to avoid paying tax. Promoters of frivolous schemes encourage taxpayers to make unreasonable and outlandish claims about the legality of paying taxes despite being repeatedly thrown out in court.
  11. Abusive Tax Shelters: Abusive tax structures are sometimes used to avoid paying taxes. The IRS is committed to stopping complex tax avoidance schemes and the people who create and sell them.
  12. Offshore Tax Avoidance: Successful enforcement actions against offshore cheating show it’s a bad bet to hide money and income offshore


If you suspect you’ve been the victim of fraud, you can report it to AARP’s fraud hotline at 800-222-4444. Volunteers can refer you to the appropriate agency for filing a complaint. Also, you may report the fraudulent misuse of the IRS name, logo, forms or other IRS property by calling the TIGTA toll-free hotline at 1-800-366-4484 or visiting the TIGTA Web site.