Identity thieves have already started trying to scam Americans based on the announcement the federal government will begin providing checks as part of the COVID-19/coronavirus stimulus package. Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The aid package includes stimulus payments for most taxpayers.
Within hours, scammers had come up with schemes to defraud taxpayers. The Better Business Bureau reports identity thieves using confusion over the stimulus checks to convince potential victims to turn over personally identifying information. In one method, scammers suggest you might qualify for a special COVID-19 government grant and that it’s necessary to first verify your identity and bank information in order to process the request. Variations on that method involve contacts through text messages, social media posts, and emails.
In another method, scammers suggest you might get more money from the federal government—or get your stimulus check faster—if you share personal details and pay a small “processing fee.” You don’t need to spend money to receive your stimulus check. There are no shortcuts—even for a fee.
Don’t take the bait on any of these scams. The stimulus checks will be deposited into the bank account that you used for deposit or payment of your 2019—2018 if you haven’t filed your 2019 taxes yet—federal tax return. The IRS will be handling the payment of the stimulus checks but will not call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do not give out your bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information even if someone calls or contacts you to say it is necessary. It’s a scam.
The Better Business Bureau also reports you should be cautious about bogus checks sent to you in the coming week or so. If you receive a “stimulus check” in the mail now or within a week, it’s likely fraudulent. It will take the IRS at least two to three weeks to begin sending out stimulus checks to people who will receive one who don’t have a bank account on file. If you receive a “stimulus check” for an odd amount (especially one with dollars AND cents), or a check that requires that you verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s a fraud.
If you’ve been contacted by a scammer, or had a fraud check sent to you, report it to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker. Your report may help others avoid falling victim to scams.
Remember, the IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will the IRS call about taxes owed without first having mailed you a bill
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement agencies to have you arrested
- Demand that you pay taxes without allowing you to question or appeal the amount they say you owe
- Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes, such as a prepaid debit or gift card, or wire transfer
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone
With fear and confusion surrounding the COVID-19/coronavirus outbreak, scammers are working hard to get you to fall for their tricks. It’s important to be very careful about unusual emails, websites, and other offers that are connected to COVID-19.
As always, be wary of emails that offer solutions—especially claims of COVID-19 cures—that promise to keep you safe from the virus. Don’t click on links in emails that you don’t know. Those links could download viruses onto your computer or device.
Watch for emails that look to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, or medical institutions that you don’t normally hear from. For the most up-to-date information about the outbreak, check the Centers for Disease Control website at cdc.gov, or the website of the state health office for the state in which you live. Visit those websites by typing in the domain name yourself.
Ignore online offers for vaccinations, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges, or other items that claim to treat or cure COVID-19…whether you see the offer online or in a store. There simply isn’t any magic cure to prevent you from getting the virus. Even washing your hands and staying away from other people won’t guarantee you’ll be COVID-19 free. But it will help reduce the risk.
If you’re asked to donate to a charity raising funds to fight COVID-19, be especially careful. Many scammers create fake charities hoping people will donate in a panic. Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation. Find out what the name of the charity is, and then use a source like the Charity Navigator website to learn more about them. If someone asks you to donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, don’t do it as these are common tricks scammers use.
If you’re worried about identity theft, Peoples Edge Plus Checking offers identity theft monitoring, reimbursement, and resolution services (with activation/registration)—with the $6 monthly service fee waived through June 30, 2020.
If you have questions, contact Peoples State Bank at 888.929.9902 to speak to a personal banker to help you.