So far, the IRS has sent out coronavirus relief payments to eligible recipients totaling $200 billion. Since the IRS prioritized direct deposit over payments through the mail, about 20 million Americans are thought to still be waiting for their stimulus checks. Unfortunately, situations like these also invite prime opportunities for scammers to take advantage: as of this writing, since January, the FTC has gotten complaints of over 24,000 cases of fraud related to COVID-19 – totalling nearly $31M in reported loss. What types of scams are out there, and what can people do to protect themselves?
Fake checks in the mail
Scammers might send a check in the mail that is larger than the stimulus payment you were expecting to receive, or in an odd amount. They might tell you that you’ll have to send the excess back to them via wire transfer. If someone were to try and cash that check, it would likely bounce, leaving them with bank fees and bigger headaches.
How to verify: The Secret Service teamed up with the Department of the Treasury on this helpful guide to show payment recipients exactly what the checks would look like. When you get your check in the mail, note the watermark, treasury seal, and other security features so that you know you’ve gotten the real thing.
Scammers may also try to call you directly or through robocalling, saying that they are from a government agency like the IRS and ask you to verify personal information or payment details. They might also say that you can get your payment faster for a “processing fee”.
How to verify: The IRS usually contacts people through notices in the mail and will only call after several notices have been sent out. You also should pay attention to the terms that the person is using - the official term for the stimulus payment is “Economic Impact Payment”. If someone repeatedly tells you that your “stimulus payment” or “stimulus check” needs to be verified, this is likely a red flag. Check out the ways in which the IRS might contact you.
Emails, text messages, or social media
If you get a strange email, text, or social media message from someone claiming to be from the IRS or other government agency who needs more information from you to process your payment, it’s likely a scam.
How to verify: The IRS has set up a web portal, known as the Get My Payment tool, to check on payment status. The site will say it’s an official website of the U.S. government as well as being properly encrypted with https:// before it (you may also see a lock symbol next to the website address, which you can click to see the security information). Government sites will also have a .gov web address.
This is the only way to check on payment status at this time - the IRS will not contact you through means other than direct mail. If you get a suspicious email asking you to click on a link, that is likely a phishing attempt, where scammers are attempting to gain access to your passwords or other personal information to try and impersonate you. The best way to handle it is to not input anything.
It is also important to note that the IRS will send out a direct mail letter 15 days after they’ve sent the payment to you, letting you know they’ve sent your payment. If you receive that letter, but have not gotten your payment, you’ll need to follow up with authorities. If you have any doubts, contact the FTC or the BBB directly to report.
Have questions about your stimulus check? We’re here to help.
We are currently servicing new and existing clients via our online and phone systems to help ensure the safety of our community. If you have any questions about the purpose of your stimulus check and how to best apply it to your current financial situation, contact us today.
The Team at Chatterton & Associates
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