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IRS warns taxpayers about bogus tax refund scam

Seniors, working families and church members targeted by con artists
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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With tax season well underway, the Internal Revenue Service is warning senior citizens and other taxpayers to beware of tax refund scams. IRS officials say the schemes carry a common theme of promising refunds to people who have little or no income and are not normally required to file a federal income tax return. Local organizations that help seniors say there are general guidelines they can follow to safeguard themselves from these scams. Some of the more common scams include promises that someone can get a victim a credit based on the American Opportunity Tax, even if they never went to college or went several years ago, or file claims for the expired Economic Recovery Credit Program, according to a press release issued by the IRS earlier this month. “Most of these scams involve promoters who prey upon people in need, building false hopes. When victims’ claims are rejected, their money and the promoters are long gone,” said Richard Panick, IRS spokesperson, in the press release. “We want to warn the public to be on guard and stop this new scheme before more innocent people are victimized.” Candace Roeder, executive director of Seniors First, said the organization often gets calls from seniors who have been solicited by scammers of all types. “Frequently seniors will call us and just ask us, ‘does this sound right?’” Roeder said. “Too often they don’t make that call first.” One senior told her recently that someone called asking for their social security number to switch their insurance plan to a better one. Roeder said whenever an incident like that occurs the first thing they tell people to do is to call local law enforcement. She said there have even been scam artists that have targeted victims of past scams, claiming if they pay they will help them get their money back. “That is just so heartless, it is so wrong,” Roeder said. Eric Hill, an instructor and tax preparer for AARP does taxes for seniors and others in Auburn at the Multipurpose Senior Center for no charge through the organization’s program. He said there are steps consumers can take to protect themselves from tax scams. “First thing is don’t ever talk to anybody who calls you — anybody who solicits you. The probability is that they are dishonest,” Hill said. He said he hasn’t come across any seniors who were targets of tax schemes, but has come across other types of schemes. The most common one he has seen is financial advisers buying and selling stocks without their senior client’s best interest in mind to make commission. “It’s illegal, but it’s still done,” Hill said. “I think you need to deal with known, reputable individuals.” Roeder said the bottom line is someone should never have to pay to get their own money. “I would venture to say that is always a scam,” Roeder said. “And for goodness sake, if you didn’t play the foreign lottery, you can’t win the foreign lottery.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News. _______________________________________________________ For more information on the AARP tax program or to make an appointment, call the Auburn Multipurpose Senior Center at (530)823-8172. _______________________________________________________ Protect Yourself Take steps to protect yourself from financial exploitation and abuse, including tax scams: • Plan ahead to protect your assets and to ensure your wishes are followed. Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney, or financial adviser about the best options for you. • Never give personal information to anyone who phones you. • Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery "winnings." • Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and get a second opinion. •Consult with a financial adviser or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand. •Get to know your banker and build a relationship with the people who handle your finances. They can look out for any suspicious activity related to your account. •Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances. •Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail. •Feel free to say "no." After all, it’s your money. • You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you think someone close to you is trying to take control of your finances, call your local Adult Protective Services. Source: Elder Financial Protection Network Trust your instincts Exploiters and abusers often are very skilled. They can be charming and forceful in their effort to convince you to give up control of your finances. Don’t be fooled. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Source: Elder Financial Protection Network