The Internal Revenue Service says another epidemic is already here. Scammers are trying to steal the IRS stimulus payments that arrived this week for millions of Americans.
IRS Stimulus Provides Coronavirus Relief
The payments, $1200 per adult plus an additional $500 for each minor child, are showing up in bank accounts this week. This money is a financial lifeline for individuals and families impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.
IRS stimulus checks are part of the $2.3 trillion coronavirus rescue package signed into law by President Donald Trump.
A New Wave of Scams
But with so much money floating around and so much uncertainty in the air, criminals are bound to show up. They see fresh opportunities for scams such as:
- Identity theft
- Fake service offers
- Phony “reimbursements”
- Needless “service fees”
- Malicious websites
- Fraudulent “charities”
- Low-tech crimes like stealing paper checks out of mailboxes.
Donna Parent, Chief Marketing Officer for Sontiq, a company that protects against identity theft, says:
“Right now, due to how vulnerable the population is, it’s really prime picking for fraudsters to come out in full force.”
The Federal Trade Commission already reports over $13 million in fraud losses. That is worsening as people receive their direct deposits and stimulus checks.
Phishing for Personal Information
The IRS’s Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration warns that scammers are fraudulently posing as IRS agents. In that guise, they fish for personal information from payment recipients. Armed with that knowledge, they access financial accounts and steal money.
In a letter to the Inspector General, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote:
“I understand scammers are already contacting innocent Americans by impersonating IRS or Treasury Department officials, offering so-called COVID-19-related assistance that requires the sharing of personal financial information.”
“These scammers then use that information to steal from their unsuspecting victims.”
U.S. Attorney General is “urging the public to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19.”
How to Protect Yourself from Stimulus Scams
Stimulus scams grow more sophisticated by the day. With the help of modern technology and a wealth of personal information available online, scammers are better-armed than ever. They look, sound, and act so much like legitimate entities that it is incredibly different to tell the difference.
However, there are ways to protect yourself. Keep these things in mind:
- Government agencies like the IRS or Social Security Administration do not call, text, or email citizens and collect private information. No official or legitimate representative ever contacts you and asks for your social security number, personal passwords, credit card information, or bank account numbers.
- Likewise, no legitimate agency ever comes to your home to gather personal information.
- No company can make your check arrive earlier or help you obtain multiple checks.
- If you receive a check, you do not have to call and give your personal information to have the funds released.
- There is no “service fee” to receive stimulus funds.
- Your stimulus funds arrive even if you owe money to the IRS.
The good news is the Trump Administration created this program to help all Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. This money makes a huge difference to millions of impacted citizens.
But the bad news is more money means more unscrupulous predators. Ryan Patrick, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, describes it best:
“There are just some scumbags out there. All they want to do is prey on people and use their resources to steal people’s money.”