There’s one very unfortunate and annoying thing that’s gone hand-in-hand with the federal government’s distribution of stimulus payments in recent weeks and months. It’s a plethora of stimulus check scams, that can separate unsuspecting victims from their money if they’re not careful.
The IRS sent out a warning about specific scams to watch out for, after these have basically exploded recently. “Even though taxpayers have received multiple rounds of Economic Impact Payments, we saw phishing scams surge this summer,” said Jim Lee, Chief of IRS Criminal Investigation. “The number of reported scam attempts reached levels we haven’t seen in more than a decade.”
IRS warning about stimulus check scams
Criminals are constantly changing tactics, the IRS warns. Here are just some of the schemes to watch out for:
- Text messages announcing that a taxpayer is eligible for a stimulus payment. And that they must click on a link to complete the necessary information to claim it.
- Phishing emails claiming the IRS has calculated a taxpayer’s “fiscal activity,” which shows they are eligible for an Economic Impact payment of a specific amount.
The IRS says that one of the best ways to protect yourself against nefarious activity like this is to understand how the agency communicates with taxpayers. For one thing, it does not send unsolicited texts or emails. So if you get one of those, that’s a huge red flag.
The IRS also does not threaten individuals with jail or lawsuits. Nor does it demand tax payments on gift cards or via cryptocurrency.
Other things to watch out for
Other red flags that can serve as tip-offs about scams: See if you can spot errors. Like grammatical, capitalization, and spelling mistakes in emails and texts, “which serve as fraud indicators,” per the IRS. Also, don’t click on any shortened URLs, which can lead to fraudulent websites.
The IRS says that “taxpayers who receive unsolicited emails or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, should forward the message to email@example.com. Taxpayers are encouraged not to engage potential scammers online or on the phone.”
Meantime, taxpayers who think they’re the victim of a stimulus check scam? They can report fraud or theft to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Reports can be made online at TIPS.TIGTA.GOV. Also, “if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft as a result of a scam, visit the Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft webpage to know what steps to take.”
To learn more about COVID-19 scams and other financial schemes, additional information is available at IRS.gov. And official IRS information about COVID-19 and Economic Impact Payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page.