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Landlord caught illegally spying on tenant’s stimulus check status

April 24th, 2020 at 10:12 PM
Coronavirus stimulus checks
  • Not long after the IRS launched a web portal to let Americans check the status of their stimulus payment, an Oregon tenant was allegedly contacted by his landlord asking if he was going to use the money that he had received to pay rent.
  • The discussion between the tenant and the landlord shows that the landlord checked on the status of the tenant’s payment by using their SSN and other information they had on hand.
  • The IRS website warns that this is illegal, and the tenant has since filed suit.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Last week, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) introduced an online tool on its website that allows Americans to check the status of their Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act stimulus checks. On the one hand, it’s a fairly straightforward and convenient tool — provide some identifiable information about yourself and you can figure out whether or not and precisely when the direct deposit will hit your bank account. But gaining access to someone’s stimulus payment status might actually be too easy, as one Oregon man discovered.

On April 16th, a political organization called Cascadian Resistance shared a screenshot of an alleged text message exchange between one of its members, Austin Goodrich, and his landlord. In the texts, the landlord tells Goodrich that he has received his “stimulus,” and asks if he plans to pay any or all of his rent, as the landlord wants to “close out the books for April.” Goodrich asks how the landlord knows that he received his check, and the landlord reveals that they checked “several people today.” How did the landlord check? Online, using the IRS web portal.

In order to check the status of your coronavirus stimulus payment, you have to provide your name, social security number, street address, and zip or postal code. Landlords have access to all of this information from the applications tenants fill out when they move in. With moratoriums on evictions, and millions of Americans filing for unemployment, you can see why the status of a $1,200 check might be of interest to a landlord.

The problem is that tracking someone’s payment status without their permission is expressly illegal. When you visit the IRS web portal and click on the big Get My Payment button, the first thing you see is a warning which includes the following language: “Unauthorized use of this system is prohibited and subject to criminal and civil penalties, including all penalties applicable to willful unauthorized access (UNAX) or inspection of taxpayer records.”

On April 19th, Joshua Browder, CEO of DoNotPay (a legal services chat bot we’ve covered before) signal boosted the story, and around the same time, Business Insider reached out to Goodrich for more details. Goodrich then explained that he lost his job as a security guard and told his property manager that he wouldn’t be able to pay his rent. He says that he was offered “payment arrangement agreements that were unrealistic to any person of low-income,” and was therefore unwilling to agree to any of the arrangements presented to him.

On April 22nd, Goodrich revealed on Twitter that he had filed a lawsuit against the property manager and the landlord of the property at the advice of his lawyer. The complaint has been made public online.

Jacob started covering video games and technology in college as a hobby, but it quickly became clear to him that this was what he wanted to do for a living. He currently resides in New York writing for BGR. His previously published work can be found on TechHive, VentureBeat and Game Rant.

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