People are handling the coronavirus outbreak in different ways. While most of us are trying to do the right thing by social distancing and helping flatten the curve, others are taking advantage of the pandemic to rip people off.
The FTC already warned of COVID-19 related scams making the rounds like fake charities and shady businesses accepting payments online for high-demand products without actually shipping the orders. Tap or click here for details.
Unfortunately, it appears things are getting worse. The IRS just issued a dire warning about a new scheme that is so convincing it could fool almost anyone.
Scammers targeting stimulus payments
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the U.S. economy and most of our bank accounts extremely hard. By now you’ve heard about the economic stimulus package signed into law.
Last week, to save the economy from spiraling further out of control, President Trump signed a new coronavirus relief bill into law that offers immediate financial relief to individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic.
As a result, many Americans will receive a stimulus payment of up to $1,200. Tap or click here for 4 things you need to know about your check.
Now, scammers are using stimulus payments as part of an elaborate scheme to rip you off. The IRS is urging taxpayers to be on the lookout for phone calls and email phishing attempts about the coronavirus, or COVID-19. These contacts can result in tax-related fraud and identity theft.
In an alert, the IRS 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.”
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Not only should you watch for emails but also text messages, websites and social media posts that request money or personal information.
How to get your economic impact payment
In most cases, the IRS will deposit economic impact payments into the direct deposit account you previously provided on your 2018 and 2019 tax returns. If you didn’t give direct deposit information in the past, you will be able to provide it to the IRS through a newly designed secure portal on IRS.gov in mid April.
If the IRS does not have your direct deposit info, a check will be mailed to the address on file.
WARNING: Taxpayers should not provide direct deposit or other banking information for others to input on their behalf into the secure portal.
How to protect against this IRS scam
Seniors are especially vulnerable in these types of attacks. The IRS is reminding retirees that no one from the agency will be reaching out to them by phone, email or in-person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment.
The IRS is automatically sending these payments to retirees and no additional action or information is needed on their part.
Here are some things scammers may say in this scheme:
- Emphasize the words “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment.” The official term is “economic impact payment.”
- Ask the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check to them.
- Ask 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.
- Suggest 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.
- Mail the taxpayer a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
If you think you’ve received a phishing email, text message or social media attempt to gather information that appears to be from the IRS, you should report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The IRS isn’t the only government agency sounding the alarm on coronavirus scams. The Secret Service is also warning that coronavirus-related phishing emails are on the rise.
In a press release, the U.S. Secret Service explained identity theft is the “biggest type of complaint” that has cost taxpayers an estimated $1.9 billion annually.
Thankfully, as with all phishing scams, there are things you can do to keep from falling victim.
Be careful with unsolicited messages
If you get an email or text claiming to be from the IRS, don’t click links or attachments that are included.
That’s actually great advice for any unsolicited email you receive. If you get emails from companies you do business with, it’s better to type their web addresses directly into your browser rather than follow a link from a message that could be malicious.
If you need to contact your bank, call the number on the back of your credit or debit card to ensure it’s the official phone number.
Get information from official sites
Many spoofed sites supposedly offering coronavirus information will be used for phishing attacks, tricking victims into handing over sensitive information or they could infect your device with malware or ransomware.
That’s why it’s critical only to go to official websites if you’re looking for information on the coronavirus. Stick with sites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or WHO.
And make sure to type web addresses directly into your browser to make sure you’re not led to a spoofed site. The CDC website is cdc.gov and the WHO site is who.int.
Doing a simple internet search for any website could bring up spoofed sites as a result. Scammers are great at making fake sites look official and you don’t want to be messing around on those.
The coronavirus outbreak is bad enough on its own, the last thing we need is shady people piling on looking to rip us off. Just follow the suggestions we’ve detailed in this article, stay cautious and you should be safe.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, advice, or health objectives.