The IRS is warning people nationwide to beware of scammers trying to steal COVID-19 economic impact payments.
The stimulus checks, officially called economic impact payments, will be distributed in a matter of weeks. Most recipients will receive the payment through direct deposit into their bank accounts. People who don’t have bank accounts, the elderly and others who have traditionally received paper-check tax refunds will receive the payments the same way.
Scammers are particularly targeting the latter groups, but everyone should be on the lookout for several schemes. The most common involve scammers trying to get people to sign over checks to them and “verify” filing information, which they’ll use to file false tax returns, according to the IRS.
Officials have identified three ways scammers may try to carry out the thefts.
First, taxpayers should be extra vigilant for unsolicited phone calls concerning their economic impact payments, said Tom Murdock, assistant special agent in charge with the IRS Criminal Investigations Seattle Field Office. The office handles cases in Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii.
“These phone impersonation scams can be coming from anywhere, from out of the county,” Murdock said. “They’re bogus; people should hang up.”
These scams are similar to someone purportedly calling from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office or Vancouver Police Department, claiming you owe money. For the stimulus payments, scammers will more likely claim to be working for the IRS.
“An aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, have been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be employees of the IRS but are not. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS, and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license,” according to the IRS.
Second, people should be on the lookout for emails and texts from individuals purporting to be IRS workers. The messages may ask for information to get your money or speed up the stimulus payment, Murdock said.
Scam emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking they are official communications from the IRS, tax industry professionals or tax software companies. The phishing emails ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics related to refunds, filing status, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information.
Third, fake checks may show up in the mail. Official IRS mail will use the term economic impact payment rather than stimulus check or something similar. If you receive a check for an odd amount, especially one with cents, or a check that requires you to verify it online or by calling a number, it’s fraudulent, the agency says.
These emails, letters and text messages will have links to fake websites. If the links do not direct you to irs.gov, it’s a scam, Murdock said. Officials noted a couple of fake websites, including USA.gov and IRSgov, without a dot between “IRS” and “gov.”
If people click on the links, they are taken to websites designed to imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov. The sites may also carry malware, which can infect people’s computers to steal their files or record their keystrokes, according to the IRS.
According to Atlas VPN research, cumulatively, scammers created over 35,500 unique websites related to COVID-19 in the last month. The company reported at least 2,000 websites related to the novel coronavirus are created daily, with half of them being scams.
Amazon and Shopify are removing misleading listings or shutting down suspicious shopping websites.
Murdock said people should file a report with their local law enforcement agencies if they fall victim to a scam, and visit the official IRS website for more information on anything scam-related.