The Department of Justice has warned of a “new wave of COVID-19 scams” amid the ongoing second round of stimulus payments being delivered to Americans.
In a statement Wednesday, the department said: “In the last several months, IRS-CI [Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation] has seen a variety of Economic Impact Payment (EIP) [stimulus payment] scams and other financial schemes designed to steal money and personal information from taxpayers.”
Criminals were reported to be taking advantage of the second round of stimulus payments and the upcoming tax filing season “to trick honest taxpayers out of their hard-earned money,” the department said.
Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow said in the statement: “I urge citizens to remain alert and to be skeptical of any telephone calls, e-mails, or websites that request personal information or banking information, while promising money or services that seem too good to be true.”
Below we outline four stimulus payment-related scams to look out for.
1. Fake checks
Scammers might mail you a physical check, which looks exactly like the government-issued stimulus checks. Once the check is deposited into your bank account, the scammer (pretending to be from the government) will claim you have been mistakenly overpaid and ask you to return some of the money.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns: “The IRS won’t tell you to deposit your stimulus check then send them money back because they paid you more than they owed you. That’s a fake check scam.
“These scams work because fake checks generally look just like real checks, even to bank employees. They are often printed with the names and addresses of legitimate financial institutions. They may even be real checks written on bank accounts that belong to identity theft victims. It can take weeks for a bank to figure out that the check is a fake.
“By law, banks have to make deposited funds available quickly, usually within two days. When the funds are made available in your account, the bank may say the check has ‘cleared,’ but that doesn’t mean it’s a good check. Fake checks can take weeks to be discovered and untangled. By that time, the scammer has any money you sent, and you’re stuck paying the money back to the bank,” the FTC advises.
Any suspected fake check scams should be reported to the FTC, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and your state attorney general, the FTC advises.
“Taxpayers can also report fraud or theft of their Economic Impact Payments to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). Reports can be made online at TIPS.TIGTA.GOV,” the Department of Justice advises.
2. Phishing emails and texts
Those awaiting their stimulus payment might receive emails, texts or messages on social media claiming to be from the government. One of these emails or messages might ask you to click on a link to “verify” your information or to fill out an application to receive your stimulus check.
Another scam entails “text messages asking taxpayers to disclose bank account information under the guise of receiving the $1,200 Economic Impact Payments,” the Department of Justice warned Wednesday.
The FTC advises: “The IRS won’t contact you by phone, email, text message, or social media with information about your stimulus payment, or to ask you for your Social Security number, bank account, or government benefits debit card account number. Anyone who does is a scammer phishing for your information.
“Scammers use email or text messages to trick you into giving them your personal information. They may try to steal your passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers. If they get that information, they could gain access to your email, bank, or other accounts,” the FTC adds.
Any suspected phishing emails should be forwarded to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at email@example.com, while all phishing texts should be sent to SPAM (7726), the FTC advises.
3. Fake websites
Back in April, there were reported to be more than 150,000 suspicious stimulus check-related websites, according to data from Bolster, an online security firm.
It’s imperative that you don’t click on any links in the aforementioned phishing emails or messages. Doing so can lead you to a fake website that can download malware onto your device and steal your personal information by asking you to fill out a form.
The FTC notes: “Always start at irs.gov/coronavirus to check your eligibility, payment status, enter direct deposit information or to find out what to do to get your payment. Never click on links in emails, texts or social media about this money. Those are scams.
“Only use irs.gov/coronavirus to submit information to the IRS – and never in response to a call, text, or email” and “always go to irs.gov/coronavirus for official updates and information about your money,” the FTC adds.
Scammers may also try to contact you while pretending to be a government official on a robocall, which is a recorded message rather than a live person. Some of these calls might claim you need to pay an upfront fee to retrieve your stimulus check or ask you to verify your personal information.
The FTC warns: “You don’t need to pay anyone to get your money. Anyone who tells you to pay a fee to get your economic impact payment is a scammer,”
Many of these robocalls are not only scams but are also illegal.
“A robocall trying to sell you something is illegal unless a company has your written permission to call you that way” and “if you give permission, you have the right to change your mind later.
“Don’t rely on your caller ID. Scammers can fake the name and number that shows up, making it look like a call is from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or a local number. That’s called spoofing,” the FTC notes.