Stimulus Check Scams to Avoid
February 5th, 2021
Newsweek magazine reports that the U.S. Department of Justice has warned of a "new wave of COVID-19 scams" amid the stimulus payments being delivered to Americans: "IRS (Internal Revenue Service) has seen a variety of Economic Impact Payment (stimulus payment) scams and other financial schemes designed to steal money and personal information from taxpayers."
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."
Here are four stimulus payment-related scams to avoid.
Scammers might mail you a physical check, which looks 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.”
The fake checks are often printed with the names and addresses of legitimate financial institutions. Fake checks can take weeks to be discovered – and by then, the scammer has any money you sent.
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.
Phishing emails and texts
Those awaiting their stimulus payment may 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 a stimulus payment. 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.”
Suspected phishing emails should be forwarded to the Anti-Phishing Working Group at email@example.com, while phishing texts should be sent to SPAM (7726), the FTC advises.
In April, 2020 there were reported to be more than 150,000 suspicious stimulus check-related websites. Don’t click on any links in 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.”
Criminals may try to contact you while pretending to be a government official on a robocall – which is a recorded message. 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. 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."
Be safe, be smart, and be alert to scams!