3 Major Ways to Block Stimulus Payment Scams – Keep Your Money Safe
by Susannah McQuitty
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Updated September 17, 2020
When the CARES Act went into effect and launched a plan to provide financial relief for the COVID-19 pandemic, you can bet the fraudsters and scammers pricked up their ears. There is always someone out there wanting to cash in on your money.
Thankfully, there are some really simple ways to protect yourself. Here are the IRS’s top three tips on how to kick fraud to the curb.
Be alert for phone scams – every call is a fake.
Get a phone call from someone posing as an IRS agent? A Treasury Department rep? Someone from the government in general? Yeah, that’s an automatic no.
No government agency, including the IRS and the Treasury Department, will try to contact you by phone about your stimulus payment. That’s a zero phone-usage policy, so if anyone calls you and says they’re from Uncle Sam, they’ve essentially shown their cards.
Whatever they say, and whatever they claim you have to tell them about your personal information, hang up the phone and walk away.
Be alert for phishing scams – emails, social media messages and texts are fake too.
Emails, social media messages, and texts about your economic impact money (also referred to as stimulus money) are a no-go for government agencies. They’re just too easy to fake, and your security is top priority for the IRS and others.
One threat that may present itself is an email, direct message or text asking you to verify your bank information so a stimulus check can be directly deposited to your bank account. Others claim they’ll enter your direct deposit information for you in the portal if you provide the info. Whatever the claim, don’t buy it.
First of all, most of us won’t need to provide this information, since the IRS can get it from our 2018 or 2019 tax returns – so the simplest way to update your information is to file your 2019 tax return if you haven’t yet. Secondly, for those who haven’t provided direct deposit information on those returns, the IRS has launched the Get My Payment tool where you can track your payment and provide bank account info if you’d like to. Lastly, if you are comfortable waiting on a check, you don’t have to share your account information with anyone. The IRS will mail you a stimulus check if it doesn’t have your bank info.
If you get an email, direct message, or text that requests confirmation for personal information, whether it be about your taxes, credit cards or bank accounts, haul it to your spam folder and go about your day.
Be alert for state-related scams.
State governments run their tax agencies differently from the IRS in many ways, but here’s one constant – they won’t call, email or text you to collect sensitive personal information, such as a Social Security Number or bank account number.
It’s also important to note that, as of the date of this post, no state has introduced its own version of a stimulus payment or economic impact payment. Don’t let a scammer convince you that your state wants to send you stimulus money if you’ll just provide your account information.
More red flags to look out for
Many scammers will emphasize or overuse the term “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment” without using official language like “economic impact payment,” which is the term the IRS uses. Heavy use of buzzwords should be telling.
Others may even mail you a check with instructions to verify your information online or over the phone in order to cash it. No thanks—that’s definitely a red flag.
So, what will communication from the IRS look like?
As far as economic impact payments are concerned, we’re still waiting on final guidance. Based on the language in the bill that was passed – the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act – there’s one communication the IRS is required to send: 15 days after sending a stimulus check or direct deposit, the IRS is required to physically mail a notice to the taxpayer. That notice will detail the payment amount, how it was delivered, and a phone number to call if the taxpayer did not receive the payment.
Notice one very important detail here: The IRS will only contact you after they send your payment, not before. If anyone reaches out before you get your payment, be very careful of how you proceed.
Worried about your payment going to the wrong address or bank account? The sooner you file your 2019 tax return, the sooner you can update your information with the IRS. If you e-file, you’ll get that info to them the fastest way possible.
Senior citizens who receive Social Security or railroad retirement benefits won’t need to take action, and neither will Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients, and Veterans Administration (VA) benefits recipients. The IRS will use information gathered from the appropriate government agency (e.g., Form SSA-1099 or Form RRB-1099) to send your Economic Impact Payment.
If you receive government benefits, aren’t required to file a tax return, and never received the additional $500 per qualifying child, use the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info tool to update your information. SS, SSI, RR, and VA recipients must act before Wednesday, September 30 to receive their additional payment in October.
It is unclear whether SSDI recipients could qualify for this window to update their information, but it doesn’t hurt to try—at the end of the day, you should receive your additional $500 when you receive your refund in 2021 if you don’t get it sooner.
Don’t receive benefits through the government programs described above? If you’re also not required to file, use the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info tool to register for your Economic Impact Payment.
How to report suspicious activity
You can help the IRS shut down phishing schemes by reporting suspicious activity from emails, texts or social media to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you and yours are staying healthy and safe these days. We’ll continue to do our best to keep you informed when it comes to your taxes and the Coronavirus.
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