"You must pay your taxes immediately, or else," an ominous voice on the other line says before demanding a credit-card number. Most Americans roll their eyes and hang up on these scam calls, but thousands have fallen victim, and millennials are more susceptible than older generations, a new study finds.
Millennials are less likely than gen Xers or baby boomers to receive tax scam phone calls, according to a recent survey, but they were six times more likely than older generations to give the scammer their credit-card numbers, and twice as likely to give their Social Security numbers.
The survey of over 1,000 American adults commissioned by First Orion, a phone-call transparency company that works with mobile carriers to block scam and telemarketing calls, found that tax scams were among the most common fraudulent calls, second only to cruise and vacation scams. From October 2013 to October 2015, 4,550 victims were claimed by these scams, paying more than $23 million in total, according to the Internal Revenue Service. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration received over 700,000 reports of such scams during that time period.
While millennials, defined in the survey as those aged 18 to 35, were more susceptible to these scams, the rates of engaging with scammers were still very low: Only 2.4% of millennials polled said they had given away their payment information, and 1.6% admitted to giving their Social Security number. However, about 17% of millennials said that if the mystery caller could verify the last four digits of their Social Security number, they would be willing to respond with sensitive information. Only 3.2% of generation X, defined as those aged 36 to 50, and 2% of boomers (here, aged 51 to 65) would do the same.
But why is the digital generation most likely to fall for these scams?
For starters, they don't realize how gullible they are. Just 35% of millennials surveyed said they think they are susceptible to identity theft, compared to 50% of generation X and 54% of boomers. Raised online, millennials are more accustomed to sharing personal information digitally, which might factor into their scam rates. Still, millennials may escape tax scams due to their general disdain for talking on the phone.
"These telephone scams are being seen in every part of the country, and we urge people not to be deceived by these threatening phone calls," IRS commissioner John Koskinen said in 2014. "We have formal processes in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are not how we do business."