The Internal Revenue Service will begin distributing COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments — also known as “stimulus checks” — to the public over the next several weeks. The individual amounts could be as much as $1,200 per person.
And there are outside forces quite eager to separate you from your windfall.
It could be a phone message from an “IRS employee” asking you to verify “payment details” like your bank account or PayPal information. Or you might receive an email asking a variety of questions about your personal information or claiming a false tax return has been filed. A scammer may also try to get you to sign over your check to them.
Among those expected to be aggressively targeted for these and other similar scams — thanks in part to the coronavirus outbreak that has forced many to stay at home and be out of work, as well as shutting down businesses — are recent immigrants, the elderly, and those who do not have direct deposit to their bank accounts and receive such payments by mail.
Variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue year-round and they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike — as with the stimulus checks that are about to be sent.
Don’t become a victim.
“Unfortunately criminals are taking this unprecedented pandemic as an opportunity to exploit the public,” said IRS Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Korner in an agency release.
“It is critical now more than ever to remain vigilant for scams that are attempting to steal your personal information and your money. All Americans should specifically be on the lookout for scammers trying to directly steal their COVID-19 Economic Impact Payment, as well as fraudsters trying to trick them into providing sensitive information by convincing them it is required to receive their payment from the IRS.”
US Attorney Nick Hanna also said in the release that, “While much of the country is working from home, scammers and con artists are also working — on schemes to steal your money. Criminals are taking advantage of the health emergency, so I urge everyone to heed the warnings to protect your personal information, your bank account and anything potentially valuable to a fraudster.”
If you have already received a “stimulus check” in the mail, it is fake. No payments have yet been issued by the Treasury Department. An example, IRS officials said, would be a “check” for an odd amount (especially one with cents), or a check that requires that you verify the check online or by calling a number.
Other types of “scams” to be vigilant about include:
— A phone caller saying the IRS will deposit your economic impact payment into the direct deposit account you previously provided on your tax return (or, in the alternative, send you a paper check). The IRS will not call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do not give out your bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information — even if someone claims it is necessary to get your economic impact payment.
If you receive such a call, do not engage with scammers or thieves. Just hang up. If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal information or clicking on links, delete them. Do not click on any links in those emails.
— Callers telling potential victims they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license.
Scammers may urge you to pay this fake “debt” with your economic impact check. For those who receive an actual check, they may ask you to endorse it and forward it to them for “payment of past debts.”
— Also beware of “phishing” email scams that appear to be from the IRS and include a link to a bogus website intended to mirror the official IRS website. These emails can contain the direction “you are to update your IRS e-file immediately.” The emails mention USA.gov and IRSgov (without a dot between “IRS” and “gov”).
These emails are not from the IRS. But if people click on links from these phishing emails, they are taken to sites designed to imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov. The sites may also carry malware, which can infect people’s computers to steal their files or record their keystrokes.
The first line of protection of your money and your information is you.
If you have other questions or want to contact the Internal Revenue Service yourself, visit www.irs.gov or www.irs.gov/coronavirus.