U.S. Attorney; IRS Warn of COVID-19 Payment Scams

by Don Ledford

U.S. Attorney Tim Garrison and Special Agent in Charge Karl Stiften, IRS-Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), St. Louis Field Office, are warning taxpayers to be on the lookout for scam artists  trying to use the COVID-19 economic impact payments as cover for schemes to steal personal information and money. 

Garrison and Stiften made the announcement today in an effort to prevent taxpayers from falling victim to criminals using the recently approved economic impact payments as an opportunity to commit a crime.

“We want the public to be informed and alert so they don’t fall prey to these criminal schemes,” said Garrison. “Economic impact payments are intended to assist honest citizens, not enrich greedy fraudsters.”

“The existence of a deadly national pandemic will not stop criminals seeking to capitalize on the fears and difficulties faced by the public as they try to line their own pockets by stealing your money or your personal information,” warned Stiften.

Automatic COVID-19 economic impact payments started being deposited into taxpayers’ accounts on April 11. For most Americans, this will be a direct deposit into their bank accounts. Those without bank accounts, retirees, or other groups who have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check will receive their economic impact payment in this manner as well. Scammers may try to get you to sign over your check to them or use this as an opportunity to get you to “verify” your filing information in order to receive your money, and then use your personal information at a later date to file false tax returns in an identity theft scheme. Because of this, everyone receiving a COVID-19 related economic impact payment from the government is at risk.

Garrison and Stiften offered the following information and tips to spot a scam and understand how the COVID-19 related economic impact payments will be issued:

•           The IRS will deposit your check into the direct deposit account you previously provided on your tax return (or, in the alternative, send you a paper check).

•           The IRS will not call or send an email or text to ask you to verify your payment details. Do not give out your bank account or any other account information – even if someone claims it’s necessary to get your check. It’s a scam. 

•           If you receive a call, don’t engage with scammers or thieves, even if you want to tell them that you know it’s a scam, or you think that you can beat them. Just hang up.

•           If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal information or clicking on links, delete them. Don’t click on any links in those emails or texts.

•           Reports are also swirling about bogus checks.  If you receive a check that requires you to verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s a fraud.

In these uncertain and trying times, we need to stand together united with purpose.  Don’t become a victim by allowing criminals to exploit your emotions. Stay strong, tell your family, friends and neighbors about these scams. 

“IRS Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are prioritizing these types of investigations to help protect taxpayers and the tax system, especially those looking to prey on vulnerable taxpayers,” said Stiften.  “Remember, go directly and solely to IRS.gov for official information.”

For more information, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/coronavirus.  You can always report scams to the IRS on the website at https://www.irs.gov/privacy-disclosure/report-phishing

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