Coronavirus Stimulus Check Scams, Fraud, Identity Theft Warning: Safety Tips From IRS as Millions Await Payment

As the coronavirus economic stimulus package gets underway in the U.S, the Internal Revenue Service has urged taxpayers to be wary of fraudulent schemes involving the payments.

Some Americans eligible for the scheme have begun to see the one-off payments arrive in their accounts, while millions more are waiting for the delivery of paper checks. The scheme aims to ease the pressure from the severe economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

However, the IRS has warned taxpayers to be on the lookout for a surge of calls and email phishing attempts about coronavirus, which can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.

"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," said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort.

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"While you are waiting to hear about your economic impact payment, criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on it. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is working hard to find these scammers and shut them down, but in the meantime, we ask people to remain vigilant."

Around 40 percent of the deposits so far were for $1,200, although some are as high as $4,700 depending on household specifics and other factors. For most Americans, the payment will be a direct deposit into their bank accounts. For the unbanked, elderly or other groups that have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check, they will receive their economic impact payments in this way too.

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What coronavirus economic stimulus package scams should you be wary of?

Fake IRS Emails and text messages

"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," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.

"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."

Taxpayers should watch not only for emails but text messages, websites and social media attempts that request money or personal information.

'Verifying' scams and false tax returns

Scammers may try to get you to sign over your check to them or get you to "verify" your filing information in order to steal your money. Your personal information could then be used to file false tax returns in an identity theft scheme.

Fake checks

Bogus checks are also being distributed. If you receive a "check" in the mail now, it is a fraud. It will take the Department of Treasury a few weeks to mail the legitimate checks to taxpayers.

Fraud targeting retired Americans

The IRS has also reminded retirees who don't normally have a requirement to file a tax return that no action on their part is needed to receive their economic impact payment.

The IRS advises retirees (including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099) that no one from the agency will be contacting them by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment, also sometimes referred to as rebates or stimulus payments.

The payments are being sent automatically to retirees, so no additional action or information is needed on their part.

Coronavirus stimulus package scam warning signs

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the difference between a genuine email or message and a scam. Here are some of the key warning signs to look out for:

  • Emphasizing the words 'Stimulus Check' or 'Stimulus Payment'. The official term is economic impact payment.
  • Asking the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check to them.
  • Asking 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.
  • Suggesting that they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer's behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.
  • Mailing the taxpayer a fake check, perhaps in an odd amount, then telling the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
  • Receiving texts or emails claiming you can get your money faster by sending personal information or clicking on links. Do not click on any links in those emails or texts.

What is being done to tackle coronavirus economic stimulus package fraud?

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission reported that it had received almost 12,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 in just three months, with more than half of those fraud-related.

Attorneys across the U.S. are implementing COVID-19 Fraud Task Forces, which include partnerships with State Attorneys Generals to combat individuals taking advantage of the pandemic.

U.S. Attorneys in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, and New Jersey announced joint task forces, as well as Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The IRS states: "People who receive unsolicited emails, text messages or social media attempts to gather information 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), should forward it to phishing@irs.gov."

Coronavirus Stimulus Check Scams, Fraud, Identity Theft Warning: Safety Tips From IRS as Millions Await Payment | U.S.