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Fraudsters Hoping to Cash in on Coronavirus Stimulus Checks (officially known as Economic Impact Payments)

April 13, 2020

As the coronavirus economic stimulus package gets underway, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) has urged taxpayers to be wary of fraudulent schemes involving the payments.  And, to be on the lookout for a surge of calls and email phishing attempts about coronavirus, which can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.

The five most common Economic Impact Payment scams we can expect are:

1) Phishing Attempts
This is the type of scam where we expect to see people most commonly victimized. In fact, this one is all over the place already. Taxpayers should watch not only for emails but text messages, websites and social media attempts that request money or personal information. Here’s how it works.

  • You will receive a message telling you to click on a link to get your stimulus check. The link may infect your computer or mobile device with a virus or it will ask you to enter banking or personal information.
  • Payments are being sent automatically, so no additional action is required on your part.

2) Advance Fees
You may receive a message saying you need to pay an advance fee in order to get your stimulus check. 

  • You will never need to pay money to get your check. No one will ask you for upfront payment. 
  • Note also, your payment CANNOT be sped up or fast-tracked, regardless of what anyone says.

3) Fake Checks
Bogus checks are being distributed. 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. It is reported the IRS will start sending paper stimulus checks the week of May 4th. 
In some cases, you could get a check in the mail that looks official but is actually fake.  Here’s how the scam works.

  • You cash the check and while your bank is processing it you’ll receive a call or a message from the sender.
  • The fraudster will say, “We sent you too much money. You need to transfer a certain amount of money back to us or else we will take action against you.”
  • The check that was mailed to you will eventually bounce. However, if you’ve already transferred money back to the fraudster, you’ll likely be on the hook for that amount.

4) “Verifying” Scams and False Tax Returns
Fraudsters may contact you regarding your economic impact payment and try to have you “verify” your filing information in order to steal your money. Your personal information could then be used to file false tax returns, among other identity theft schemes.  

  • The IRS will not call or email you to ask for or “verify” your Social Security number, bank account, or credit card number. 
  • The IRS will not ask taxpayers to give personal or financial information over the phone or email to help accelerate the payment of a stimulus payment. 

5) Fraud Targeting Retirees 
If you’re a retiree who doesn’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return, no action on your part is needed to receive your economic impact payment.

  • No one from the IRS, or any governmental agency, will contact you by phone, email, mail or in person asking for information to complete your economic impact payment.
  • Payments are being sent automatically, so no additional action or information is needed on your part.

Coronavirus Stimulus Package Scam Warning Signs

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the difference between a genuine email or message and a scam. Here are some of the key warning signs to look out for:

  • Fraudsters may emphasize the words “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment”. The official term is Economic Impact Payment.
  • Asking the taxpayer to sign over their stimulus check to them.
  • Asking by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their stimulus check.
  • Suggesting that they can get a tax refund or stimulus check faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.
  • Mailing the taxpayer a fake check, perhaps in an odd amount, then telling the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
  • The economic impact payment will be for an even amount. Odd amounts will not be sent.   
  • You do not need to “sign up” to receive an economic impact payment. 

Criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on your economic impact payment. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is working hard to find these scammers and shut them down, but in the meantime, we ask that you remain vigilant. If you’re suspicious of “IRS” tax fraud, please don’t hesitate to call us.

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