As the COVID-19 pandemic is still underway, the U.S. coronavirus economic stimulus package is beginning to send out stimulus checks via direct deposits or mail. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has urged taxpayers to be wary of fraudulent schemes involving the payments.
The FBI recently issued a warning to be on alert for fraud schemes saying, “While talk of economic stimulus checks has been in the news cycle, government agencies are not sending unsolicited emails seeking your private information in order to send you money.”
New research from Next Caller found that about 32 percent of 1,000 surveyed Americans believe they’ve already been targeted by fraud or scams related to COVID-19. Studies also show that 52 percent of Americans are saying they’re worried about being victimized by fraud. 44 percent of respondents have said they’ve noticed an increase in phone calls, texts, and even video chat calls from unknown numbers, and emails from unknown sources.
So far, about 40 percent of the stimulus check deposits are for $1,200, although some are as high as $4,700 based on household specifics and other factors. For most Americans, the payment will be a direct deposit into their bank accounts. For the unbanked, elderly or other groups that have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check, they will receive their stimulus check in the mail, as well.
There are dozens of ways misinformation can lure unsuspecting victims into a position of vulnerability. “Scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal your money, your personal information, or both. Don’t let them,” the FBI said. “Protect yourself and do your research before clicking on links purporting to provide information on the virus; donating to a charity online or through social media; contributing to a crowdfunding campaign; purchasing products online; or giving up your personal information in order to receive money or other benefits.”
Fraud targeting retired Americans
The IRS has also reminded retirees, who don’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return, that no action on their part is needed to receive their economic impact payment.
The IRS advises retirees that no one from the agency will be contacting them by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment, rebate, stimulus check, or whatever the scam refers to.
The payments are being sent automatically to retirees. This means that there is no additional action or information needed on their part.
Fake IRS Emails and text messages
If your fraud emails do not make it to your junk mail, here are tricks to look for:
- Emphasis of the words “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment.” The official term used by the IRS to look for is “economic impact payment.”
- Asking you to sign over your economic impact payment check to them.
- Asking by email, text, or even phone, for verification of personal and/or banking information and saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their economic impact payment.
- Suggesting that they can get your tax refund or economic impact payment to you faster.
Be wary of random Facebook groups offering a supposed home cure for COVID-19 from self-proclaimed health experts. (There is no cure yet!)
By clicking the “about” section of a Facebook group, you can see whether that group has changed its name multiple times to reflect new national crises. This is a sure sign that the group is dishonest.
Also, if a site claims to be an official government publication, it is simple to check the URL and see if it ends in “.gov”.
During a disease outbreak or natural disaster, it is common for charities or relief funds to ask for donations. It is always a good thing to donate to a good cause or give to the less fortunate, but before you open your wallet or give out personal information, be sure that the charity or relief fund is legitimate.
- Did you look up the charity’s report or ratings? (You can search charities on give.org, charitywatch.org, guidestar.org, or charitynavigator.org.)
- Did they ask you to pay with a gift card or wire transfer? Credit cards and checks are safer.
- Does their name look similar to a well-known charity’s name?
- Search the charity’s name? Do others say it is a scam?
- Did you ask how much of your donation is going to the program?
‘Verifying’ scams and false tax returns
Scammers may try to get you to sign over your check to them or get you to “verify” your filing information in order to steal your money. Your personal information could then be used to file false tax returns in an identity theft scheme. Always be hesitant to give away your personal information.
If you receive a “check” in the mail now, it is a fraud. It will take the Department of Treasury a few weeks to mail the legitimate checks to taxpayers. No checks have been sent out yet.
Bogus checks usually have an odd amount and then request you to call a special number or verify information online in order to cash it.
“We urge people to take extra care during this period. The IRS isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.