Stimulus Check Safety
Beware of scammers trying to get you to part ways with your money
By Jon Aldrich
By now, many that qualified for the Coronavirus stimulus payments have probably received the funds in their bank account. However, if you have not received it, you can go to the IRS site https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus-tax-relief-and-economic-impact-payments and check on its status. There is also all kinds of other information on this site relating to the Economic Impact Payments as these stimulus checks are officially known.
Also, if you want to double check that the amount of stimulus check that you received is correct, you can double check the total here.
However, now is also a time where some less than savory individuals may be trying to get their hands on your stimulus money as well. We may be in a bear market for stocks, but there is a bull market for scammers looking to get their mitts on these stimulus payments. When there is this much money floating around, this was bound to occur, sort of like flies attracted to, um, well you know what I mean.
Remember, the IRS will never contact you by phone, email or text message. Also, be wary of links on social media that encourage you to click to find out the status of your stimulus payment.
One of the most common frauds associated with the stimulus checks is a call claiming that your stimulus payment has been cancelled and you need to give them sensitive information to make sure you get it back. Or the one where they say you have tested positive for COVID-19 and need to contact someone to pay for antibiotics. Now, if they could just mass produce this new, no-contact, COVID test, we could open the economy tomorrow. And one more thing, antibiotics are ineffective at treating viruses. They are for bacterial infections. Another call tells victims that a "processing" fee will speed up your stimulus payment so if you send them the money for this “processing” you will get your money ASAP.
But the frauds are not relegated to just phone calls, email or social media. There is also news of counterfeit stimulus checks being sent out in the mail, where they ask you to call a number or verify information over the phone to cash the check. https://www.today.com/money/stimulus-check-scams-how-spot-counterfeits-protect-yourself-t179647#anchor-1Bewareofcounterfeitchecks.
You will likely be contacted via one of these methods, as the scammers are in a feeding frenzy right now. I keep suggesting to people that if you do not recognize a phone number, DON'T ANSWER IT! If the call is important, they will leave a voice message. This can save you not only time, but also keep your stress level low and eliminate any potential for fraud to occur. If the "IRS" does leave you a phone message telling you to call them, you already know that the IRS is not going to call you, so it is a bogus message and can be ignored.
If you want to get creative, there are numerous apps for your phone that handle and block most robocalls. I have one that I use called Robokiller that blocks calls and also allows me to either record my own message to mess with the robo-caller or use one of their pre-packaged recordings of which many are hilarious. I happen to have Jon Snow from Game of Thrones answer all my spam calls and converse with the tele-marketer for me. Here is a review of how this works and be sure to listen to the answer bot in the article to hear an example.
If you do happen to ignore my advice and answer the phone, another way you can tell it is fake, is that the IRS will never demand immediate payment or threaten to throw you in jail. One of the scammers most effective weapons is that of fear as they know that fear often causes people to make irrational decisions. They know that there is a lot of fear floating around right now from COVID-19, so they are able to play on this during this stressful time for all of us.
The only way the IRS is ever going to contact you is by mail. And, even then, you might want to be sure that this is not a scam either. Over the last couple of years there have been some fake IRS notices being sent via mail https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2019/08/05/beware-fake-irs-letters-are-making-the-rounds-this-summer/#31fda2bb9458 so if you do happen to get a notice from the IRS, it would be a good idea to have your accountant verify it first, or if you do your own taxes, inspect the letter closely. Often times, the addresses will not match those on the IRS website (see here) https://www.irs.gov/filing/where-to-file-addresses-for-taxpayers-and-tax-professionals-filing-form-1040 or refer to a fictitious agency such as the "Bureau of Tax enforcement" or some other bogus name in lieu of the Internal Revenue Service.
If you are curious to a bunch of other “scams” making the rounds out there currently, take a look here. If some of these online con artists used their ingenuity for good we might have a vaccine for COVID-19 already.
In this day and age, we not only have to be extremely careful about protecting our health, we also have to be extremely careful of protecting our personal finances from these "viruses" of society looking for hosts to prey on. It sure can be a dangerous world that we live in these days.