March 2021 Monthly Insight – Slam the Scam

Posted By T. Lee Sherbakoff, CPA/PFS, CFP® on Mar 1, 2021


It’s a lie and it’s a scam.
— Lenny Kravitz, American singer-songwriter

“Slam the Scam” Day

Thursday, March 4, 2021 has been designated as the second annual National “Slam the Scam” Day. The goal is to raise public awareness of government imposter telephone scams, which continue to spread across the United States.

Last year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) received over 718,000 reports of Social Security-related telephone scams—with a total of $44.8 million reported lost.  Victims who lost money reported an average loss of $5,800.  On National “Slam the Scam” Day, the SSA is encouraging people to warn their friends and family to just Hang Up!  The SSA also urges Americans to be very cautious of calls from a government agency telling you about a problem you do not recognize.  Real government officials will NEVER:

  • Threaten arrest or legal action against you if you do not immediately send money.
  • Promise to increase your benefits or resolve identity theft if you pay a fee or move your money into a protected account.
  • Require payment with retail gift card, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing
  • Text or email you messages that contain your personal information.

If you ever owe money to the SSA, the agency will mail you a letter detailing your payment options and appeal rights.  Further, the SSA does not suspend Social Security numbers or demand secrecy from you to resolve a problem—ever.  Please share this information with your friends and family—and spread the word about scams on social media.

Tax season is in full swing. So are the tax scams.

In addition to social security scams, tax scams typically surge early in the year when taxpayers start filing their returns to the IRS.  This year, tax season started Feb. 12.  Normally, the filing period begins in late January, allowing early birds to submit their returns and get their refunds.  Con artists may be more active this year because of the shorten filing period. 

Much of the fraud typically involves identity theft, according to tax experts.  In such cases, a criminal might steal your personal information and then file a fake tax return and collect a refund.  Taxpayers may also unwittingly supply personal data to criminals who falsely claim they can help collect stimulus checks.  Keep in mind, Congress is aiming to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill that includes $1,400 stimulus checks by mid-March.

Criminals often reach out via telephone and e-mail to try ripping off unsuspecting victims.  In IRS imposter scams, for example, a con artist may pose as an IRS agent and try to intimidate callers into divulging sensitive information.  However, the IRS will not initiatecontact with taxpayers by phone, email, text message, or social media channels to request personal or financial information.  The IRS also will not call to demand immediate payment — officials will generally first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. 

More than 89,000 Americans filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission last year reporting tax fraud linked to identity theft. According to the FTC, identity theft was the most reported type of fraud in 2020.  One surefire way to reduce the odds of fraud is by submitting tax returns as soon as possible.

What to do if you are scammed

Be vigilant and use common sense.  Anyone can fall victim to these scams.  If you have mistakenly paid someone, call your bank, money transfer app, or credit card company, and see if they can reverse the charges.  If you gave personal information, go to https://www.identitytheft.gov to see what steps you should take, including how to monitor your credit.

When you report a scam, the FTC can use the information to build cases against scammers, spot trends, educate the public, and share data about what is happening in your community.  If you were scammed, report it to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov.

Avoid clicking on suspicious links, and never give out personal information to a stranger over the phone.  You might never tell your best friend your annual income, so why would you give a suspicious caller your passwords, bank information, date of birth, or your Social Security number.  Take time to change your account passwords.  Passwords should be lengthy and include numbers, letters, special characters, and capitalized letters.  Short passwords can easily be hacked using computer programs.