KIHEI, Hawaii –
Experts say seniors are the most targeted population when it comes to fraud. And while scammers are looking to take your money, they can sometimes ruin your life in more deadly ways. A Maui man picked up a scam call and his family says it nearly killed him.
One phone call changed Reuben Ventura’s life. The Kihei resident was a healthy 68-year-old recent retiree enjoying life, until he took a phone call on May 17 from someone claiming to be from the IRS. Ventura’s niece Azenith Ventura says the caller threatened that “he owed the IRS $9,000. My uncle was taken aback. He’s retired.”
He said he didn’t have that much money. “They told him, ‘We’re sending the police over now.’ That’s when he got really upset and nervous. He started having weakness on one side of his body. His blood pressure shot up. He was having a stroke,” Azenith recalls- a severe one.
He’s in good spirits, Azenith says, but he suffered major injuries. “He was in the ICU for a week. Then a regular floor for another 3 weeks. He’s not able to walk yet, and still no function on his left side.”
Today, Ventura is recovering in a rehab center. He may come home on July 20- but he might never recover full function, reveals Azenith.
That’s why he’s sharing his story. “It was just a phone call. That could’ve happened to anybody. He doesn’t want that to happen to other people.”
Experts from AARP say what happened to Ventura is called an impostor scam: when a crook pretends to be from a legitimate business, to con money out of you. AARP says the most common scam in Hawaii is impostor fraud.
Craig Gima AARP Hawaii communications director, says he’s received calls recently, too, from people claiming to be from the IRS. While he didn’t fall for it because of the high level of awareness he has thanks to his job, he understands how easy it is for someone to be affected by those kinds of calls. “They’re able to get you off your game. You’re not thinking logically when they call you,” he says.
That’s why awareness is key. Doug Shandel is a fraud expert for AARP’s national office. He flew to Hawaii just to speak at a recent presentation. His advice: “Any time someone approaches you from a company saying they do business with you, you should independently contact that business.”
Seniors, AARP says, are the fattest target. Gima says, “Young people are actually victimized more, but kupuna [seniors] lose more money because they have more money. That’s why scammers target older people.”
Folks at a recent AARP Hawaii conference appreciate the advice. Mary Mench attended the lecture, and came out saying, “It’s important you get information out like this to people because elderly people are really vulnerable.”
AARP has more advice on these various types of scams, and how to protect yourself:
IRS Imposter Scam: The IRS will not contact you by phone about paying back taxes without first sending you a written notice.
Tech Support Scam: Technology companies will not contact you to warn about viruses on your machine. Don’t give out your financial information, and don’t give anyone access to your computer.
Family Emergency Scam: The goal of this scam is to play on your fears and get you to act fast. Slow down and check with others to make sure you’re really hearing from a loved one.
Romance Scam: Be extra careful when dealing with anyone you’ve met online. Romance scams often start with fake profiles on online dating sites. Be wary of anyone who professes love too quickly, wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or instant messaging to communicate, or anyone who asks for money.
Foreign Lottery Fraud: You can’t win a lottery you never entered. Plus it’s illegal for a U.S. citizen to participate in a foreign lottery when they are in the U.S.
The Internal Revenue Service warns taxpayers to remain vigilant for phishing emails and telephone scams. Summertime, it says, tends to be a favorite period for scammers because many taxpayers have recently filed a return and may be waiting for a response from the IRS.
The IRS and its Security Summit partners – the state tax agencies and the tax industry – urge taxpayers to remain alert to tax scams year-round, especially immediately after the tax filing season ends. Even after the April deadline passes, the tax scam season doesn’t end.
“While many of the scams are variations on a theme and tend to evolve over time, taxpayers should be on the lookout for any attempt to get them to disclose personal information like Social Security numbers, account information or passwords. If in doubt, don’t give it out. Those receiving such calls should hang up and initiate correspondence with the agency that is purportedly inquiring about their account using a well-known phone number or email address. Clicking on links provided in emails or calling back unfamiliar phone numbers is not recommended,” says the agency, which details various scams and what to do below:
The IRS does not call and leave pre-recorded, urgent messages asking for a call back. In this tactic, the victim is told if they do not call back, a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Other variations may include threat of other law-enforcement agency intervention, deportation or revocation of licenses.
Criminals are able to fake or “spoof” caller ID numbers to appear to be anywhere in the country, including from an IRS office. This prevents taxpayers from being able to verify the true call number. Fraudsters also have spoofed local sheriff’s offices, state Department of Motor Vehicles, federal agencies and others to convince taxpayers the call is legitimate.
Email phishing scams
If a taxpayer receives an unsolicited email that appears to be from either the IRS or a program closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), report it by sending it to email@example.com. Learn more by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page.
The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. The IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail delivered by the United States Postal Service. However, there are special circumstances in which the IRS will call or come to a home or business, such as when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or during criminal investigations.
Telltale signs of a scam:
The IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:
• Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties.
• Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
• Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
• Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
For anyone who doesn’t owe taxes and has no reason to think they do:
• Do not give out any information. Hang up immediately.
• Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report the call. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page.
• Report the caller ID and/or callback number to the IRS by sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject: IRS Phone Scam).
• Report it to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov. Add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
For anyone who owes tax or thinks they do:
• View tax account information online at IRS.gov to see the actual amount owed. Taxpayers can then also review their payment options.
• Call the number on the billing notice, or
• Call the IRS at 800-829-1040. IRS workers can help.
The IRS does not use text messages or social media to discuss personal tax issues, such as those involving bills or refunds. For more information, visit the Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts page on IRS.gov. Additional information about tax scams is also available on IRS social media sites, including YouTube videos.