Waiting for Your Stimulus Check? Beware of COVID-19 Scams
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the country and around the globe, scammers are taking advantage of people’s fears surrounding the virus. New coronavirus-themed scams and phishing attacks seem to appear daily, from promises to provide COVID-19 treatments to offers of free Netflix subscriptions in exchange for clicking a link or downloading an app.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some scammers are pretending to be from the Social Security Administration and trying to get consumers’ Social Security numbers and other personal information. There has also been a rise in coronavirus-related charity fraud, along with scams where websites claim to sell medical equipment like ventilators or personal protective wear.
As of mid-April, the FTC reported it had received nearly 12,000 complaints from consumers about alleged coronavirus-related scams. Now, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and its criminal investigation division are seeing a wave of new schemes designed to use government stimulus checks as a way to gain access to people’s personal and financial information.
Scammers know that many individuals and businesses need economic assistance as a result of national and local social distancing restrictions. The CARES Act has authorized the IRS to send economic stimulus payments to eligible Americans as part of an effort to help them get through the crisis. Consumers need to be aware that scam artists are working to defraud them by exploiting confusion about the government's stimulus program, particularly related to who qualifies and how the money will be received.
Individuals with adjusted gross income below $75,000 will get a $1,200 payment and married households filing jointly will get $2,400. Households under that threshold will get $500 for every qualifying child. Payments gradually decline for every $100 above the threshold.
If you already have filed a 2018 or 2019 federal tax return and are eligible for a stimulus payment, the IRS will deposit your payment directly into the bank account you listed on your return. Social Security recipients and railroad retirees will automatically receive a stimulus payment the same way they receive monthly benefits. Taxpayers who do not have direct deposit information on their tax returns can either submit their banking information to the IRS through its dedicated Get My Payment portal or the IRS will mail a paper check.
Fraudsters impersonating government agencies, banks and businesses are calling, emailing and texting consumers demanding banking and personal information in order to deposit stimulus checks. Email, text and social media messages may ask recipients to open attachments or click links to verify information in order to receive their stimulus checks or speed up payment. Many of these messages are personalized with the receiver’s name.
Officials are warning consumers to watch out for requests for payment, personal or financial information, any offer to help apply for the stimulus program, or any grant offers related to the program. Do not give banking information to strangers who offer to put that information into the IRS system for you, or agree to sign your check over to any caller. Also beware if a check shows up in the mail, potentially in an odd amount, that requires you to call a number or verify information in order to cash it.
Follow these general guidelines to protect yourself from scammers:
Do not open or respond to texts, emails or calls about checks from the government. Remember that organizations like banks, the IRS and the SSA will not call, text or send emails requesting personal information.
Do not click on links from sources you don’t know.
Scrutinize links and email addresses. Hover your mouse over a link to see if it goes to the site it claims to be or if the address has extra letters or numbers.
Look for grammatical mistakes or misspellings which typically indicate an email is spam.
Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov to get the latest COVID-19 information.
Don’t verify any personal information to anyone who calls out of the blue.
Hang up on robocalls.
Do not trust caller ID. Scam calls may show up on caller ID as the IRS or SSA and look like the agency’s real number.
Federal agencies are working to find scammers and shut them down. However, people can protect themselves and their loved ones by knowing what to watch for. If you are getting these emails or calls, raise awareness by discussing them with your family and friends. If you believe you have been victimized by a scammer, seek legal counsel immediately. Contact us at 973-509-8500 x213 or email us at LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.