Legal Aid's Senior Scam Alert Newsletter

Part of my work here at The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County is to make sure you are aware of scams out there so you can protect yourself and help spread the word.

Every month I'm going be sending you information about the scams I have been made aware of.

If a senior you know needs legal advice or counsel about a scam,
please don't hesitate to call Legal Aid at 1-650-558-0915.
February 2017
Tax Scams
The 2017 Tax Season is here, which means that tax-related scams are now in play.  Taxpayers are at risk of being victimized by clever fraudsters. The IRS reported an approximate 400% surge in scam phishing and malware incidents in the 2016 tax season. It is vitally important to be aware of the dangers of tax-related scammers.

A scammer may initiate contact with a taxpayer by telephone, email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.  The IRS does not initiate contact in that manner: official IRS bills and other communication are sent by U.S. mail.

Among the most dangerous tax-related scams:

Bogus IRS-Impersonation Telephone Scams
Callers are claiming to be employees of the IRS, but are not. These con artists can sound convincing when they call. They use fake names and bogus IRS identification badge numbers. They may know a lot about the taxpayer who is targeted. They may alter the caller ID to make it look like the IRS is calling.

Victims are told by the bogus callers that they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly, often through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer.  A victim that refuses to cooperate is threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver's license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.

This is not a legitimate contact from the IRS.

If you receive such a call, inform the caller that you will call back on an officially-designated IRS contact number and hang up.

In cases like this, the IRS suggests:

  • If you know you owe taxes or you think you might, call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue - if there really is such an issue.
  • If you know you don't owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you've never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 1-800-366-4484.
  • At that number, you can file a complaint using the FTC Complaint Assistant; choose "Other" and then "Imposter Scams." If the complaint involves someone impersonating the IRS, include the words "IRS Telephone Scam" in the notes.

Refund Scams
Unsolicited phone callers might tell taxpayer victims that they have a refund due. This is to try to trick them into sharing private information that can be used to steal the taxpayer's identity. The scammer may offer to expedite the taxpayer's refund.

Again, should you receive such a phone call, hang up and contact the IRS directly, to answer any questions about a potential refund: 1-800-829-1040.

Email Phishing Scams
Scam emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS or others in the tax industry, including tax software companies. These phishing schemes can ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics: emails can seek information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information.

When taxpayers click on these email links, they are taken to sites designed to imitate an official-looking website, such as The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information, which could be used to help file false tax returns. The sites also may carry malware, which can infect people's computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.

What do you do if you get these messages? Do not respond to the email or click on the links. Instead, forward the scam emails to the IRS at

Taxpayer Advocacy Panel
The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel (TAP) is a legitimate volunteer board that advises the IRS on systemic issues affecting taxpayers. However, taxpayers are receiving bogus emails that appear to be from TAP about a tax refund.

These emails are a phishing scam, where unsolicited emails which seem to come from legitimate organizations - but are really from scammers - try to trick unsuspecting victims into providing personal and financial information. Do not respond or click the links in them.

If you receive an email that appears to be from TAP regarding your personal tax information, please forward it to and note that it seems to be a scam email phishing for your information.

Remember, the IRS will never:
  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer. Generally, the IRS will first mail you a bill if you owe any taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have you arrested for not paying.
  • Demand that you pay taxes without giving you the opportunity to question or appeal the amount they say you owe.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten you over the phone with lawsuits, imprisonment or other enforcement action. Such rare steps are only taken after appropriate documentation has been sent to the taxpayer via the US mail.

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