Scam Season

With the federal tax-filing deadline days away, and with many of us having already filed, it might come as no surprise to receive a communication from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)—regarding a refund, money owed or even notice of the dreaded audit. But it’s also peak season for scammers who pretend to be the IRS, with the goal of stealing your identity or your money.
How It Works Scammers, impersonating IRS agents, call and insist you have an unpaid tax bill and you face arrest unless you pay up, immediately. They employ many ways to make the hoax seem convincing. They can rig a caller ID to make it appear that the call is coming from an actual IRS office, and they may even know part of your Social Security number. The call may come in as an autodialed robocall or from a live caller. The caller may also cite a nonexistent “federal student tax” that the target has neglected to pay.
What You Should Know• The IRS communicates mostly through the mail, including cases of delinquent taxes. Phone or in-person visits come only after multiple written notices•The IRS does not communicate by email or text message•The IRS never demands immediate payment and does not threaten to have you arrested if you do not pay•The IRS does not accept payment with a credit or debit card, or by gift card or wire transfer
What You Should Do •The best move is to hang up. If you think you may owe taxes, contact the IRS yourself and inquire•If you receive an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to phishing@irs.gov. Do not click on any links or open attachments•Ask for identification if someone shows up claiming to be from the IRS. Actual IRS employees carry two official credentials: a “pocket commission” and an HSPD-12 card

4 Ways to Save Money on Medications

Understanding why your medications are so costly doesn’t solve the problem for you. You still need the prescription drugs you do and still have limited money to spend on them.

Fortunately, there are a few options that you have to help bring your medication costs down:

1. Ask about generics or other alternatives.

As I-MAK’s research emphasizes, some of the prescription drugs you need simply won’t have generic options available. But many types of drugs do, and doctors don’t always think to mention the generic options when writing out a prescription. So be proactive about asking.

Even when a generic option isn’t available for a specific medication, you may be able to start by trying a different, more affordable drug that treats the same thing. Ask your doctor to go over all of your options so you can make a more informed decision.

2. Get the right Medicare plan.

Do your research to figure out the different Medicare prescription plans available in your area. Specifically, ask providers which of the prescriptions your doctor recommends they cover and how much they cost. Just because a plan covers a particular drug doesn’t mean that makes it affordable. Enbrel, an arthritis drug included in I-MAK’s report about over-patenting, still typically costs over $1,000 for patients with various Medicare prescription plans.

Nonetheless, the right Medicare plan can potentially save you a lot of money on the main drugs you need.

3. Look for coupons and discounts.

Pharmacy discount cards and coupon sites can save you up to 80% on the cost of prescription drugs. Some pharmacies also have their own discount programs that can help you bring medication costs down as well.

Do some research into available coupons and discounts for your medication and ask your pharmacist about any recommendations they have.

4. Look into assistance programs.

Both drug companies and government entities sometimes provide assistance programs to help seniors out with the cost of their medications.

Check the prescription drug provider’s website to see if they offer any assistance programs. Healthfinder.gov and NeedyMeds both offer resources for helping you find relevant programs you may qualify for.

What Seniors Can Do About Rising Medication Costs

Prescription drug prices are both a big problem for individuals struggling to make ends meet and a larger societal problem that’s bad for the U.S. In addition to looking for ways to make your own drugs more affordable, consider how you can help be a part of the bigger solution.

According to Amin, we should all be asking: “Why is it that seniors in the European markets are able to get access to a number of these drugs… and yet in the United States, they’re not able to?”

“The policies that the United States… doesn’t favor the consumers, it’s largely in favor of the corporation,” he explains. “Seniors need to be able to speak to their representatives.”

If you want access to the drugs you need at better rates and you want your children to be able to access them when the time comes as well, call your representatives and tell them so. Amin recommends calling and asking, “Why are companies able to have these monopoly strongholds on products for so long?”

Legislative solutions can be slow, but they’re unlikely to happen at all without pressure from the people most affected by the problem. Sharing your personal experience can bring a human face to the problem, which might help spur your representative to act

Reprinted from A Place for Mom

Scammers Lurk at Tax Time

During tax-filing season, it pays to be aware of the ways that scammers and hackers may try to put your potential refund in their pocket.

How It Works:

A number of different scams tend to ramp up during the filing season. Tax identity theft occurs when someone steals your Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax refund or to get a job. There are also computer viruses out there (the “Emotet” virus for one) that can send emails supposedly from the IRS with a fake copy of your tax return. Once you click it, you may become vulnerable to hackers. And of course, the ever-present IRS impostor scam calls tend to be much more common this time of year.

What You Should Know:

  • If the IRS receives a duplicate tax return filing using your Social Security number, you will receive a written notice through the mail.
  • Likewise, the IRS will send a notice if you have unreported income or that you and someone else are claiming the same dependents.
  • The IRS will not initiate contact with you by e-mail, text or social media. The IRS will not call you unless you have first heard from them by mail, and will never insist on payments using things like gift cards or pre-paid money cards (e.g. Green Dot).

Potential Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Being Victimized:

  • Submit your tax return as early in the tax season as possible.
  • Be careful what you share – don’t give out your personal information unless you know who is asking and why, and don’t be shy about refusing.
  • Never open e-mail attachments that are not from a verified sender.
  • Dispose of sensitive information safely – shred it with a micro-cut shredder.
  • Know your tax preparer.

Check the status of your refund after filing at www.irs.gov/refunds.  If you receive notice from the IRS that you are a victim of identity theft, call the number on the notice or 800-908-4490. Learn more at www.identitytheft.gov.

Reprinted from AARP

What’s New for the 2019 Tax Season

hands with calculator, pen and tax forms

When you settle in to do your taxes this year — or sit down to talk to your accountant — you may be in for some surprises. The reason: This is the first year you’ll see the full effects of the sweeping tax reform bill that passed in late 2017.

That new law made a long list of adjustments to what you can and can’t write off, what you’ll owe and even which forms you can use. These five changes are among the biggest:

1. Chances are slim that you’ll itemize deductions. 

The standard tax deduction filers could claim has nearly doubled its previous amount, so it is now $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. Plus, if you’re 65 or older and married, you can tack another $1,300 onto the standard deduction; as a single filer 65 or older, add $1,600.

At the same time, many itemized deductions have been eliminated or reduced. Most notably, the total deduction for state and local income and real estate taxes is capped at $10,000 (for singles and married couples filing jointly).

These changes could lead an estimated 90 percent of filers to take the standard deduction this year, up from the typical 70 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center.

For many people, this switch will mean less time digging up receipts and poring over bank and credit card statements to capture every single tiny deduction.

“It’ll be easier to figure out if you have to itemize,” says Patrick Daly, a CPA at the New York City accounting firm Citrin Cooperman. “Add up your charitable giving, mortgage interest and state and local taxes, and call it a day.” If that total is less than your standard deduction would be, chances are you can skip itemizing (one exception: if you have high medical expenses — see No. 4 below).

Keep in mind that some states let you itemize deductions when you file your state taxes even if you take the standard deduction on your federal return. States also may have different rules for what’s still deductible, so check.

2. Your tax bill might change for the better. 

The tax law cut income tax rates through 2025. The top rate for the highest earners — what single filers would owe on taxable income over $300,000, or $600,000 for married couples filing jointly—went from 39.6 percent to 37 percent, for example, and the 28 percent tax bracket — for incomes between $82,500 and $157,500 for singles and $165,000 and $315,000 for marrieds filing jointly — is now 24 percent, and so on.

Those changes are expected to lower tax bills for a majority of filers. Last winter, the IRS issued new withholding guidelines for employers, putting more money into the paychecks of millions of Americans.

Still, other changes to the tax law may complicate that picture. While you’ll see a much higher standard deduction, you’ll no longer enjoy personal exemptions, which were worth $4,050 a person last year, a hit to big families who were entitled to an exemption for mom, dad and every dependent child. The cap on deductions for state and local taxes could lead to a higher tax bill for residents of states with high income taxes such as California, New Jersey, New York and Hawaii.

What’s more, the shifting income cutoffs that determine your tax bracket have left a few higher-income earners facing higher tax rates, says Cari Weston, director of tax practice and ethics for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. For example, single filers with taxable incomes between $157,500 and $200,000 will be in the 32 percent tax bracket, up from 28 percent.

This filing season, your likelihood of getting a refund — and the size of that refund — is more uncertain than normal. Some experts are predicting larger refunds overall, but not everyone should celebrate yet. Even if you did adjust the withholding from your paychecks after the new tax law took effect, that change might not have been enough to account for lost deductions or outside income. “There are going to be more people who are caught off guard,” says Weston.

Because of the uncertainty due to the new tax law, the IRS recently softened the rules for when you’ll owe an underpayment penalty if you didn’t have enough money withheld or paid via estimated taxes.


 


3. The tax forms are sporting a new look.

Remember the much-hyped “tax return on a postcard” proposal? Forms 1040A and 1040EZ are gone, and Form 1040 has been redesigned so that it fits on two half pages.

But if you’re still among the small group of filers who use paper forms, this doesn’t really represent much in the way of simplification. To squeeze the 1040 into half the space, the IRS just moved the actual work someplace else. “They added more complex worksheets to make the form simpler,” says Weston. “If you do your taxes by hand, you won’t like it.”

In fact, don’t count on taxes becoming much simpler any time soon. “Taxes is still a vocabulary we don’t use on a day-to-day basis,” says Brian Ashcraft, director of compliance for Liberty Tax Service. “We endure it one time a year.”

4. You have a better shot at deducting medical expenses.

Thanks to tax reform, you can deduct unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income for at least one more year. That threshold can be a high bar to meet, but it will go up to 10 percent for 2019 taxes.

For those shouldering nursing home expenses or other high medical costs, this deduction will be more accessible and valuable in your 2018 taxes. “If you have a bad medical year, this is a helpful way to help pay for it,” says Ashcraft.

5. You get a bigger break for the people you support. 

Tax reform increased the maximum child tax credit (available for children under the age of 17) from $1,000 to $2,000 and also made it possible for some filers with higher incomes to claim this credit. Credits such as this one can be especially valuable because they cut your tax bill dollar for dollar. A deduction, on the other hand, just reduces the amount of income that’s taxed. For example, a $2,000 credit saves you $2,000 in taxes, while if you’re in the 24 percent tax bracket, say, a $2,000 deduction only cuts your tax bill by $480.

Reprinted from AARP

 

 

How the New Tax Law Affects Seniors

Tax Day is around the corner and time is of the essence when it comes to preparing your 2018 tax return.How Is the New Tax Law Affecting Seniors?

See what retirees can expect from the new tax law changes and how your tax return strategy may be different this year.

How the New Tax Law Affects Seniors

In late 2017, Congress passed a massive tax overhaul to take effect for 2018 taxes and while change brings uncertainty, the good news is that seniors may benefit from the new Trump tax plan.

If you are a caregiver for a parent or senior loved one whose finances you manage or a senior yourself, here are some of the biggest changes to expect this tax season:

1. Higher standard deduction.

Many seniors have fewer expenses to itemize, if any, as they don’t have dependents or a mortgage. In this situation, families choose the standard deduction. The new tax plan doubles the standard deduction, meaning the majority of retirees will greatly benefit as the standard deduction is more valuable.

Also, the standard deduction is generally easier and less costly if you’re getting your taxes professionally done, depending on your family’s unique situation. An expert certified public accountant (CPA) or financial advisor can help you decide what may make the most sense for you.

2. Increased deduction for medical expenses.

Healthcare is a big expense for retirees and under the new tax laws, you’re allowed to deduct medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). This means if your AGI is $60,000 and you spend $16,000 of it on healthcare, you’ll have an $11,500 deduction on your hands, which could be enough to make itemizing worth it when it comes to taxes.

When the average 65-year-old couple today is expected to spend $400,000 on medical costs in retirement, this can be substantial savings.

3. IRA charitable distribution as law.

The new laws lowered tax rates for filers in almost every income category, which can be a big benefit for seniors and their families – especially those subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs). You’re required to start taking withdrawals once you turn 70 and 1/2, when you hold funds in a traditional IRA or 401k as those withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income.

However, with the new tax brackets being a bit more favorable across the board, retirees may not lose quite as much of their savings to taxes with their RMDs.

4. Lower income tax rates.

Social Security benefits are a key source of income for many retirees and for many, a portion of this income is taxable. The new tax rules lowered most of the marginal income tax rates so that more income is included in the lower tax brackets. This means many seniors can benefit from a lower taxable income.

For example, the 15% tax rate dropped to 12% and the 25% tax rate dropped to 22%. It’s important to note that the new Trump tax plan did not change the amount of Social Security included in taxable income.

Don’t wait until the last minute to file your, a parent’s or senior loved one’s taxes. Filing early can help give you peace of mind and time to make sure you are informed about the new tax laws.

An expert CPA or financial advisor can help you strategize what makes the most sense for your family under the new tax plan.

Reprinted from A Place for Mom

 

4 Medicare Myths Around Long-Term Care

Maybe you’re looking forward to freeing yourself from private health insurance premiums when eligibility for Medicare, the federal health insurance program, kicks in at age 65. Or, perhaps you already have Medicare and assume that all your healthcare costs are covered, even in-home care and long-term care costs.4 Medicare Myths Around Long-Term Care

Unfortunately, both of these misconceptions could cost you big money in expenses, medical bills and prescriptions because you lack adequate coverage, even if you’re enrolled in Medicare.

4 Medicare Myths Debunked

“The biggest myth out there is that all people need is Medicare,” says Adam Hyers, a Medicare insurance broker in Columbus, Ohio. “Many people think that the government will take care of them, not only in the short run but in the long run too. Then they miss other items they might need, like a Medicare supplement or prescription drug plan, which help provide a good foundation but aren’t designed to pay for long-term care expenses.”

Are you up to speed on what Medicare covers, additional insurance you might need and under which circumstances Medicare pays — or won’t pay — for in-home care? If not, don’t wait to learn about Medicare coverage during a medical crisis.

The average U.S. national median cost for long-term care is around $50,000 annually for a home health aide, $48,000 for an assisted living community and $89,000 for a skilled nursing semi-private room, according to the Genworth 2018 Cost of Care Survey.

Many people purchase long-term care insurance to cover long-term care expenses. Others think they can rely on Medicare for long-term health needs. However, that incorrect assumption can be a costly mistake.

Here are four common Medicare myths debunked to help you make healthcare and insurance choices:

1. Medicare covers all health expenses.

You probably need more than Medicare Part A, which is free for most people at age 65 if they or a spouse paid into Medicare long enough while working. Did you know, however, that there are four parts to this federal health insurance, and they’re not all premium-free?

  • Part A, which is free for most people, offers basic hospital coverage with a deductible of 1,364 (2019 cost) per benefit period for inpatient care in hospice, a hospital or skilled nursing residence. Part A also pays for home health services but only under specific conditions.
  • Part B has a standard premium of $135 (2019 cost) a month and offers medical insurance for medically necessary services such as ambulance services, doctors, some medical equipment and outpatient procedures. Part B also covers preventative services like annual checkups, certain screenings and lab tests. The deductible for Part B is $185 (2019 cost) per year. After you meet your deductible, Medicare pays 80% of the Medicare-approved amount, and you must pay 20%.
  • Part C (Advantage) combines Parts A, B and sometimes D into one plan offered by private insurance companies that charge their own premium rates.
  • Part D is optional and offers coverage for prescription costs not covered by Parts A and B.

Many people think that Medicare Part A covers nearly everything regarding a hospitalization. That’s not true, says Steven Tibbits, a Medicare insurance agent with Medicare Health Plans in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Part A comes with a deductible of more than $1,000 and mostly just covers your room,” says Tibbits. “Doctors, surgeons, testing and many other fees are covered under Part B and accompanied by coinsurance.”

2. Medicare covers most in-home long-term services.

Don’t count on Medicare when it comes to long-term in-home care, says Hyers. Medicare doesn’t cover non-medical, personal services and covers only in-home care ordered by a doctor such as skilled care from a nurse, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist or social worker. However, Medicare covers skilled in-home care ordered by a doctor for up to only 21 days.

Medicare typically pays 100% of the approved amount for covered in-home skilled nursing and therapy services and 80% of the approved amount for covered medical equipment.

3. Medicare will pay all my residential skilled nursing costs.

Not so. Medicare pays the first 20 days at a skilled nursing residence with zero copays in 2019. For days 21-100, Medicare pays a portion, and the beneficiary is responsible for the leftover amount of $170.50 per day. However, you can purchase a Medigap insurance policy through a private insurance broker to cover that difference. Don’t wait until you need a Medigap policy, though.

“We get people who call wanting to sign up for Medigap because they’re going to be responsible for that amount,” says Garrett Ball, a Medicare insurance broker and owner of 65Medicare.org, a private Medicare resource. “Unfortunately, that’s often not possible. There’s a Medigap enrollment period to sign up for a plan but if you don’t, it’s difficult to get later.”

4. I don’t need long-term care insurance because I have (or will have) Medicare.

Many people believe that long-term care is always covered by Medicare with just a daily copay. However, “Long-term care is not a covered benefit by Medicare,” says Tibbits. “Long-term insurance plans can be incredibly expensive but can also be very useful.” Read more about long-term care insurance here.

Find out more information about Medicare at Medicare.gov and A Place for Mom’s “Public Pay Resource Guide: Medicaid and Medicare Government Funding for Senior Housing and Care.”

Reprinted from A Place for Mom.

 

Older Americans Lose Billions to Scams

Despite progress, law enforcement still struggles in its fight against elder fraud

Senior Woman Giving Credit Card Details On The Phone

Older adults lose an estimated $2.9 billion each year to financial scams, according to a Senate committee report released this week.

Law enforcement struggles to fight these scams because it’s “like playing a game of whack-a-mole,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Special Committee on Aging, before a Wednesday hearing on fighting elder fraud. “Many scams are perpetrated by criminals operating from foreign call centers, beyond the reach of state and local law enforcement and thousands of miles from the seniors whom they victimize,” she said.

As part of the hearing, the committee released its 2019 report on the top 10 scams targeting seniors in 2018. The most prevalent scam, out of more than 1,500 complaints to the panel’s hotline, involved Internal Revenue Service (IRS) impersonators who conned people into coughing up tens of millions of dollars. In descending order of frequency, the report lists: unsolicited calls, including robocalls; sweepstakes and Jamaican lottery scams; computer tech-support scams; elder financial abuse; grandparent scams; romance scams; Social Security impersonation scams; impending lawsuit scams; and identity theft.


Call AARP’s free Fraud Watch helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in spotting scams. 


Although criminals continue to invent new ways to separate older people from their money, law enforcement has had some success in its anti-fraud efforts. According to Collins, the largest sweep of elder fraud cases in U.S. history last February led to criminal charges against more than 200 defendants whose victims had lost more than a half billion dollars. And in 2016, five call centers in India were taken down; as a result, 24 coconspirators in the United States were sentenced to prison and ordered to repay millions of dollars in restitution.

According to the committee, scams persist because fraudsters gain the trust and cooperation of victims by harassing or seducing them. The Senate committee urges people to hang up if they receive a suspicious call and then call its toll-free Fraud Hotline, 855-303-9470.

To identify and avoid scams, the committee suggests remembering these tips:

  • Con artists force you to make decisions fast and may threaten you.
  • Scammers disguise their real phone numbers, using fake caller IDs.
  • Fraudsters sometimes pretend to be a government agency, such as the IRS.
  • Con artists try to get you to give them personal information, like your Social Security number or account numbers.
  • Before giving out your credit card number or money, ask a friend or family member for advice about the situation.
  • Beware of offers of free travel.

Reprinted from AARP.ORG

What the Shutdown Means for Filing Taxes

IRS says it will recall staff to process returns on time

IRS 1040 tax form with the words The IRS said Monday it will begin processing tax returns on Jan. 28 and pay refunds as scheduled, despite a partial government shutdown now in its third week.

Financial experts have said that taxpayers should prepare to file returns even during the shutdown, knowing that refunds could be affected. But the IRS said Monday it will recall a significant portion of its workforce, currently furloughed as part of the government shutdown, and will process refunds as it normally does.

During previous federal government shutdowns, refunds were not processed.

“We are committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive their refunds notwithstanding the government shutdown,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “I appreciate the hard work of the employees and their commitment to the taxpayers during this period.”

Taxpayers who usually file early in the year should file as soon as they have all of the necessary documentation for a complete and accurate return, the IRS said.

For most taxpayers, Monday, April 15, 2019, is the filing deadline to submit 2018 tax returns. Because of the Patriots’ Day holiday on April 15 in Maine and Massachusetts taxpayers who live in those states have until April 17, 2019, to file their returns, the IRS said.

Software companies and tax professionals will accept and prepare tax returns before Jan. 28, then will submit the returns when the IRS systems open later this month. To minimize errors and for faster refunds, the IRS “strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically,” the IRS said.

Tax preparers have been concerned about this tax season even without the government shutdown because it is the first tax season that changes resulting from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will be in effect.

“IRS employees have been hard at work over the past year to implement the biggest tax law changes the nation has seen in more than 30 years,” Rettig said. Passage of the tax overhaul caused changes in 400 IRS forms, and the agency has revised its tax withholding tables and changed tax rates and brackets.

How to Better Advocate for Your Parent or Senior Loved One

As your parents age, you will likely experience a subtle yet significant change in the dynamics of your family and relationship. Stepping into the role of caregiver for your senior loved one may not be what you had envisioned when you were younger, however, for many adult children, this shift in the parent-child relationship is part of their reality.How to Better Advocate for Your Parent or Senior Loved One

The role of a caregiver can look very different depending on the needs of your loved one, but acting as an advocate is often a primary responsibility. Read more about how to become a better advocate for your parent during this time.

How to Advocate for Your Parent or Senior Loved One

The role of caregiver for a parent or senior loved one can vary greatly depending on their health and needs, from accompanying them to medical appointments to providing hands-on, personal care – all while striking a balance between supporting their best interests and empowering them to remain the primary decision-maker.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) describes the role of an advocate as an individual who will “ensure the best life possible for our family and friends when they are vulnerable.”

This includes several importance factors, such as:

  • Ensuring they receive appropriate, high-quality and timely services and support
  • Helping manage personal affairs, such as financial, health and legal matters
  • Representing their best interest when they are unable to represent themselves
  • Understanding wishes for care and quality of life – and ensuring these wishes are followed

Family Communication Is Key

An area that families tend to struggle with is striking the balance between assisting a parent or senior loved one to make the best choices for themselves and taking over the decision-making process entirely.

It is important to remember that although the responsibilities of giving and receiving care may have reversed, the child does not become the parent and the parent does not become the child. Rather, the senior parent is an adult, capable of choice, who simply needs assistance and support.

Communicating with your senior loved one in a compassionate and respectful manner will set a positive tone and encourage them to be receptive of your help. Keep in mind that “listening is just as important as speaking” when communicating with a loved one and will allow you to better understand their desires, feelings and thoughts.

Ways to Advocate From a Distance

If you live at a distance from your senior loved one, you can still be an informed and supportive advocate.

There are ways that you can play an active role in their life, even if you live far away:

1. Check in regularly.

Set a specific time each day or week to check in with your parent or senior loved one to ensure that they are being well cared for and that nothing significant has changed with their health. Keeping conversations enjoyable and light will allow you to garner key information about how they are doing and feeling, without coming across as an interrogation.

2. Have a plan.

Try to have two plans in place: one for day-to-day matters, such as medication management and meal preparation and another in case of an emergency. An emergency action plan should outline important details about who will be the first to respond in the event of an emergency, as well as important medical wishes.

3. Know where to access important information.

PBS suggests keeping a “care notebook” that contains your parent or senior loved one’s important health information in a central location. Hard copies (or information on where to locate originals) of contact information, financial records and personal documents are important items to consider including in this notebook.

4. Learn what help is available.

PBS also suggests educating yourself on the care and services that are available to your loved one in their specific area. This can include home support, nutritious meal programs, transportation assistance or volunteer services – to name a few options.

5. Stay connected.

Communicating with the people who make up your parent or senior loved ones’ circle of care is the most important aspect of staying connected and being informed of their health status when you live at a distance. Connecting with local family members and friends, formal caregivers and neighbors regularly will allow you to hear multiple perspectives about your loved one’s overall well-being.

Advocating for your loved one does not need to be an additional burden or responsibility if you follow the above steps.

Reprinted from A Place for Mom

 

Social Security Scams

Social Security Scams

Social Security numbers are the skeleton key to identity theft. And what better way to get someone’s Social Security number than by pretending to be from Social Security?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that scammers call thousands of Americans every day, looking to wangle personal information, steal benefits or both. It’s a common form of government impostor scam, in which fraudsters pose as government officials to get you to send money or give up personal and financial data for use in identity theft.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported a surge in late 2018 in scams involving fake SSA employees calling people with warnings that their Social Security numbers had been linked to criminal activity and suspended. The caller asks you to confirm your number so he or she can reactivate it or issue you a new one, for a fee. This is no emergency but a ploy to get money and personal data: Social Security does not block or suspend numbers, ever.

This con is sometimes executed via robocall — the recording provides a number for you to call to remedy the problem. In another version, the caller says your bank account is at risk due to the illicit activity and offers to help you keep it safe.

On the other hand, you might get a call from a supposed SSA representative bearing good news — say, a cost-of-living increase in your benefits. To get the extra money, you just have to verify your name, date of birth and Social Security number. Armed with those identifiers, scammers can effectively hijack your account, asking SSA to change the address, phone number and direct deposit information on your record and thus diverting your benefits.

Consumer Reports warns of another trick with an ironic twist: Fraudsters send out emails that appear to be from SSA and instruct you to click a link to register for a free service that protects you from Social Security fraud. It’s actually a garden-variety phishing scam, designed to guide you to a fake government website that will steal your information.

With a little vigilance, Social Security scams are not difficult to identify and avoid.

Warning Signs

  • You get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to work for SSA. Except in rare circumstances, you will not get a call from Social Security unless you have already been in contact with the agency.
  • The caller asks for your Social Security number — again, something an actual SSA employee wouldn’t do.
  • A call or email threatens consequences, such as arrest, loss of benefits or suspension of your Social Security number, if you do not provide a payment or personal information.

Do’s

  • Do hang up if someone calls you out of the blue and claims to be from SSA.
  • Do be skeptical if a caller claims to be an “officer with the Inspector General of Social Security.” Scammers appropriate official-sounding and often actual government titles to make a ruse seem authentic.
  • Do set up a My Social Security accountonline and check it on a monthly basis for signs of anything unusual, even if you have not yet started collecting benefits.
  • Do install a robocall-blocking app on your smartphone, or sign up for a robocall-blocking service from your mobile network provider.

Don’ts

  • Don’t call a phone number left on your voice mail by a robocaller. If you want to contact SSA, call the customer-service line at 800-772-1213.
  • Don’t assume a call is legitimate because it appears to come from 800-772-1213. Scammers use “spoofing” technology to trick caller ID.
  • Don’t give your Social Security number or other personal information to someone who contacts you by email. SSA never requests information that way.
  • Don’t click links in purported SSA emails without checking them. Mouse over the link to reveal the actual destination address. The main part of the address should end with “.gov/” — including the forward slash. If there’s anything between .gov and the slash, it’s fake.