Three cabinet secretaries from the Wolf administration recently traveled to Pottstown for a community discussion protecting older Pennsylvanians from scams and financial exploitation.
Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne, Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann, and Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell offered tips that all Pennsylvanians can use to protect themselves from common scams and other schemes that are prevalent during the tax-filing season.
The town-hall style event at the TriCounty Active Adult Center also afforded those in attendance the opportunity to ask questions and discuss their own experiences.
Wiessmann noted that elder financial abuse is one of the most significant financial crimes of the 21st century, estimated to cost older Americans $36 billion each year.
She also shared the accounts of seniors from Berks and Bucks counties who were victimized and lost thousands of dollars to criminals using the “Grandparent Scam.”
The scam involves a phone call placed to a grandparent by a stranger. The stranger claims to be an attorney, a law enforcement official, or a friend who says a grandchild has been arrested or is in legal trouble.
The ploy is designed to trick grandparents into wiring money to a faraway city to help the grandchild they believe is in trouble. The Department of Banking and Securities has published tips to help people recognize the scam and avoid falling victim to it (https://tinyurl.com/y75wnzfj).
“Scammers will play on your emotions and push you to act quickly, but there are few faraway emergencies that require you to act immediately,” Wiessmann said.
Hassell discussed steps the Department of Revenue has taken to strengthen the systems it uses to detect fraudulent tax returns and refunds.
He also spoke of a new scam that involves cybercriminals stealing client data from tax professionals and filing fraudulent tax returns in the name of identity-theft victims.
The new twist: Rather than routing fraudulent tax refunds to a separate account, the criminals are directing the refunds to the taxpayers’ real bank accounts through direct deposit.
They are using threatening phone calls to trick taxpayers into “returning” the refunds, but unsuspecting victims in some cases have forwarded the money to the criminals. The Department of Revenue has issued tips to avoid being victimized (https://tinyurl.com/yd288z8u).
“If any phone call or email appears suspicious, take a moment and think through the situation. If something doesn’t feel quite right, follow your first instinct and don’t take any immediate action,” Hassell said.
Anyone can contact the Department of Banking and Securities at (800) PA-BANKS or (800) 600-0007 to ask questions about financial transactions, companies, or products.
If you are a victim of identity theft or discover a fraudulent Pennsylvania personal income tax return was filed using your identity, contact the Department of Revenue’s Fraud Investigation Unit at (717) 772-9297 or RA-RVPITFRAUD@pa.gov.