Watch out for the new wave of COVID-19 scams, warns IRS

Fellow US taxpayers, are you eager to get your hands on the $1,200 bailout money you’ve been hearing about? … so eager you’re open to offers to help get it faster?

If you answered ‘Yes’, then please, take heed. Any offer to help you get your COVID-19 economic impact payment is coming from a scammer trying to get their hands on your personally identifying information (PII). That’s just one of a rash of coronavirus-themed tax fraud attacks the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is seeing, it warned on Tuesday.

It’s tax season in the US: always prime time for criminals to get busy, be it phishing via email or robocalls or by grabbing checks out of unlocked mailboxes from people who aren’t getting refunds via direct deposit.

This year, the IRS is seeing the familiar, seasonal rise in tax-related attacks, but like every other genre of e-crime we’ve seen in recent weeks, it’s now coming with a COVID-19 twist.

These things scream “SCAM!”, the IRS warns:

  • When somebody’s emphasizing the words “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment.” The official term is economic impact payment.
  • When somebody asks you to sign over your economic impact payment check to them.
  • When somebody asks – be it 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 economic impact payment.
  • When somebody says they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. The IRS says that scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.
  • When a scammer sends a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tells the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.

That’s not how the IRS rolls

Bona fide IRS agents wouldn’t do any of those things, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said. That’s not how it communicates with taxpayers. So please, be wary of such attempts to rip off your tax refund or economic impact payment, he said:

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.

That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don’t open them or click on attachments or links. Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information.

IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort said that it’s no surprise that criminals are exploiting the current state of uncertainty. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is working hard to find these scammers and shut them down, he said, but in the meantime, we all have to remain vigilant:

While you are waiting to hear about your economic impact payment, criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on it.

History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need.

Heads-up for those without direct deposit

Taxpayers who don’t have their refunds direct-deposited should beware of what the IRS and its Criminal Investigation Division say is a wave of new and evolving phishing schemes that target them in particular. It’s setting up a newly designed, secure portal on IRS.gov in mid-April so that people can provide that direct deposit information. If the IRS doesn’t have your direct deposit information, it will be sending a check to the address they have on file.

Don’t fall for it if somebody you don’t know offers to input your direct deposit or other banking information into the secure portal on your behalf. They’re likely trying to commit financial fraud.

Note: Retirees to get checks automatically

Not only are the elderly at higher risk of death if they get COVID-19. They’re also favorite targets of tax shysters, just as they are with tech-support scammers or other types of e-crooks.

Retirees, keep this in mind: you don’t have to do a thing to get your $1,200 economic impact payment. Nobody from the IRS will be reaching out to retirees – including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 – by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment, which is also sometimes referred to as rebates or stimulus payments.

The IRS is sending those $1,200 payments automatically to retirees. You don’t have to lift a finger to receive yours.

Report these tax-swindling carpetbaggers

Too often, we’re too embarrassed to speak up when we get swindled. Please don’t be: it’s not your fault. These crooks are experts at milking money out of us.

The IRS is asking those who receive unsolicited emails, text messages or social media attempts that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), to please forward any information they have to phishing@irs.gov.

It’s also encouraging taxpayers not to egg on potential scammers, be they coming at you online or on the phone. Just get off the phone or the email and report the attempt. You can find out more about reporting suspected scams at the Report Phishing and Online Scams page on IRS.gov.

The agency is also asking us all to go to the original source to get the latest news on tax and economic impact payments. Namely, for official IRS information about the COVID-19 pandemic and economic impact payments, head to the Coronavirus Tax Relief page on IRS.gov. The IRS promises that the page is updated quickly as new information becomes available.

Finally, please check out our report about how to stay on top of coronavirus scams – on top of all the others, too. Stay safe, be well, and get your news from reliable sources instead of scammers!


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