The CARES Act legislation in March offered stimulus payments to almost every U.S. citizen or resident under a certain income level. During a time of record unemployment, the bill came at a crucial time for those in need.
Despite the severe need for economic relief, the size of the package and processing complications have led to significant delays for countless individuals. Many are impatient as they desperately wait for their promised payments, which has created an environment ripe for abuse by scammers and hackers.
Watching Out for Scammers
Now a surge of stimulus-related scams and phishing attempts have appeared, adding even greater danger to an already fraught situation. The IRS even released a warning about schemes tied to economic impact payments, offering helpful ways to protect yourself.
Scammers use emails, texts, phone calls, fake websites, and more to prey on those who can’t wait any longer for their stimulus package.
The most frequent scam involves the scammer posing as a legitimate representative of the federal Internal Revenue Service, pretending to offer victims a chance to receive their stimulus. When individuals follow their instructions, however, they may inadvertently download viruses or even have their banking information or identity stolen.
Here are some essential tips to avoid this scam and protect yourself from similar phishing attempts as well.
Don’t Give Out Your Information
Neither the IRS nor any well-intentioned accountant is going to contact you directly about your stimulus payment without warning. Never disclose your social security number, banking data, or other identifying information over the phone or in an email with someone you don’t know personally.
The IRS will never reach out to you to verify any information, and anyone who does so is likely only trying to trick you into sharing that data. No message from an official source should ever refer to a “stimulus check” either, as the official terminology is “economic impact payment.”
Don’t Follow Email Links
Even if a scammer does not ask directly for your information in an email or phone call, they may direct you to a website to verify your information there. Never follow the links they provide in the email.
Phishing links take you to fake websites designed to look like legitimate sites. When it asks for your information there, it may be stealing it. If you think the email might not be a hoax, then find the website yourself without following the link, and make sure that the URL is not misspelled and has the proper “.gov” ending.
Stop Downloading Every Attachment
Many scam emails may come with attachments as well. Some of these may contain malware designed to help the culprit hack into or corrupt your computer. Make sure your email settings don’t automatically download every attachment and only choose to download attachments from people you trust.
How to Get Your Relief
If you’re eager to get a relief payment, don’t wait and fall prey to a coronavirus stimulus payment scam to tell you how it supposedly works. Go directly to the source and get informed about how it works.
Eligible individuals should receive their payment if the IRS already has their banking information or address. If you have received a tax refund or any benefit from the federal government in the last year or two, you should receive the payment automatically in the same way you received those payments.
For people in that category who still haven’t received their payments, or if you don’t think the IRS has your information, then you can go to irs.gov/coronavirus and click “get my payment” to find the status of your payment. You can also provide more information if necessary.
The IRS will not ask you to pay or send money back to receive your economic impact payment. You will only ever need to submit information through the official website.
Other Scams to Look Out for
Unfortunately, many potential cybercriminals are using the chaos around these relief payments and the COVID-19 crisis to take advantage of uninformed people around the country. The FBI is warning the country of a rise in fraud schemes related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Beyond the economic impact payments, other scammers are using fake applications or websites related to the coronavirus to spread viruses and steal information. Don’t follow links to unusual websites you’ve never heard of before, and only download apps through a legitimate platform like the Google Play Store.
Some scammers are even trying to collect money by creating fake charity pages. If you want to be socially responsible and try to make a difference with your money in this crisis, do your research and look for more information on the organization elsewhere on the internet. Before giving to a charity, make sure your money will go to the right place.
Be Smart and Stay Safe
These are troubling times, and misinformation is everywhere, so be sure you always get your information from reliable and verified sources. Keeping a business afloat and family taken care of is hard enough without the scammers and hackers.
Remember that the people most vulnerable to scams like these are older and less tech-literate individuals, including retirees. You may be informed, but you can take responsibility for others beyond yourself as well. Make sure the people you care about are secure and know how to spot scams.