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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Coronoavirus scammers aim to steal taxpayer stimulus dollars

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The IRS has issued a warning about coronavirus-related scams and schemes tied to stimulus payments, also known as economic impact payments. Taxpayers are anxiously awaiting relief while scammers see the door to opportunity, and they want you to let them in.

“History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort. “While you are waiting to hear about your economic impact payment, criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on it. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is working hard to find these scammers and shut them down, but in the meantime, we ask people to remain vigilant.”

That’s right, the swindlers and imposters are back at it again, this time using stimulus payment confusion to swindle hardworking taxpayers out of a buck. Be on the lookout! Beware of emails, websites, phone calls and text messages that request your personal information or some form of payment. They’re a scam. Knowing these facts can help you avoid falling victim to predatory stimulus schemes.

YOU DON’T NEED TO SIGN UP FOR YOUR STIMULUS CHECK.

Most taxpayers don’t even need to do anything. No one is going to call you. If you meet the qualifications, you’ll get paid. Most taxpayers who filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return qualify for the credit, and the IRS will use the information on your last return to process your stimulus payment automatically

Retirees who didn’t need to file a return will still receive the economic impact payment automatically without filing a return or taking any action. And others who generally aren’t required to file, such as low-income taxpayers and SSI Recipients, will receive IRS guidance on filing the necessary simple return. 

YOU CAN ONLY SET UP DIRECT DEPOSIT DIRECTLY THROUGH THE IRS. 

If anyone asks you for your information to sign you up for direct deposit, he or she is a fraud! If your 2018 or 2019 refund was deposited into your account, the IRS will send your payment to the bank account it has on file. If your information is no longer the same, no worries, you can update your information with the IRS directly. They’re creating a secured online system for updates, and there will be guidance on IRS.gov/coronavirus

EVERYONE IS WAITING AND THERE’S NO WAY TO GET IT FASTER. 

Scammers may suggest that they can speed up the process and shorten the wait if you give them “necessary” information or pay them to work on your behalf. Stimulus checks are being released. Don’t let scammers fool you into thinking you can get it faster because that’s just not the case. 

YOU CAN’T PAY A LITTLE TO GET MORE IN RETURN. 

Economic impact payment is generally a set amount: $1,200 for individuals earning less than $75,000, $2,400 for married couples earning less than $150,000, and $500 for each qualifying child. There’s absolutely no way to get more. If you’ve made above those amounts, the payment will be reduced by $5 for every $100 over, but unfortunately there isn’t anything a scammer can do to help you change that. 

 Learn to recognize a scam when you see one. According to the IRS, scammers may:

• Emphasize the words “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment.” The official term is economic impact payment.

• Ask the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check to them.

• Ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their economic impact payment.

• Suggest that they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.

• Mail the taxpayer a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.

If you are contacted by a potential scammer, DO NOT ENGAGE online or on the phone, even if you think you know it’s a scam. Learn more about reporting suspected scams by going to IRS.gov and visiting the Report Phishing and Online Scams page. And for official, up-to-date information about the economic impact payment, visit IRS.gov/Coronavirus.

Brittany Sabalza, enrolled agent, is director of continuing education for Pro Tax Solutions Indianapolis and a tax columnist.

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