In the past week, the United States government started issuing Economic Impact Payments (EIP) of up to $1,200 per qualified individual and $500 per child. The amount of the EIP received depends on one’s adjusted gross income from the 2019 (or 2018) federal tax filing. If a taxpayer who is qualified to receive the check has set up a direct deposit with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), that taxpayer’s EIP check will be (or already has been) directly deposited by the IRS into that taxpayer’s bank account.
This is where the scammers come in. Scammers know that not everyone is eligible for the EIP, or if they are, they might not know whether or not they have set up a direct deposit with the IRS, or if they haven’t done so, how they will receive their check. In desperate times, people do desperate things, like give their personal information to strangers over the telephone.
Scammers know that people are scared and desperate because of this pandemic, that many have lost their jobs or are working reduced hours and working from home. They are taking advantage of the situation by calling vulnerable people on the telephone, presenting themselves as an IRS official, promising things that aren’t true, and asking for personal information, such as Social Security numbers, so they can use the information to perpetrate fraud.
This is not a new scam. What is new is the fact that people are more vulnerable than ever before because of the coronavirus pandemic, including new working situations or no work at all, and most of the country is stuck at home. Although the circumstances are different, the scam is the same and the IRS is not changing its usual procedures. The IRS is not going to call you over the telephone about your check. The IRS is not going to send you an email with a link or an attachment about your check. The IRS is not going to ask for any of your personal information either over the telephone or via email. The IRS is direct depositing your check into your bank account. If you have not set up direct deposit, then the IRS gives instructions on its website about how you will receive your check. The IRS will not do anything over the telephone, so if someone calls pretending to be from the IRS, know that it is a scam. According to the IRS Criminal Investigation unit, it “is actively working to combat scam artists trying to exploit Economic Impact Payments. So far, the scams CI has already seen look to prey on vulnerable taxpayers who are unaware of how the payments will reach them. IRS CI is prioritizing these types of investigations to help protect taxpayers and the tax system.”
Never give your personal information to anyone over the telephone. The Federal Trade Commission recently reported that it has received 18,235 reports from consumers who have lost more than $13.44 million in COVID-19 scams since January 1, 2020. For more information about ways to protect yourself from identity theft, go to https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/.