GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As millions of Americans begin receiving economic relief payments this week, legions of scammers are already working to keep that from happening, sparking new warnings from the Internal Revenue Service.
“I think the biggest scam right now is the phone calls,’’ said Sarah Kull, IRS criminal investigation special agent in charge. “These scammers are calling and they’re aggressive when they call.’’
Every April, scammers come out of the woodwork to prey upon last-minute tax filers. This year, they’re targeting coronavirus relief checks, which are already heading out to bank accounts coast to coast.
Scammers, pretending to be government officials, will ask for bank account information, social security numbers and other personal information. Or they will ask you to verify information.
The IRS doesn’t make phone calls, Kull said.
“That money is already coming to you and the IRS does not have to verify anything,’’ Kull said. “If you do get one of these phone calls, don’t even engage with the person. Just hang up.’’
A $2.2 trillion economic recovery package tied to the coronavirus pandemic includes one-time payments of up to $1,200 for millions of Americans.
The IRS this week began distributing the money via direct deposit. Checks will be mailed to those who have not forwarded direct deposit information to the IRS.
In the weeks since the recovery package was approved, con artists have been working the phones.
They offer to help people get their federal stimulus checks, but say they need bank account and Social Security numbers to do so. Other times, they may ask for upfront fees.
Kull said some scam artists tell people they owe money to the IRS and browbeat them into providing personal information.
“They may tell you that you have a payment due to the IRS and you have to turn this money over to them,’’ she explained. “They give bogus badge numbers to get your Social Security number and bank account information.’’
Con artists can sound convincing. They obtain personal information about you to lend credibility. That personal information is usually gleaned from public records, social media and the dark web.
For some, the quarry isn’t your $1,200 check, but your identity. They may be fishing for personal information to open credit cards in your name, Kull said.
“It could be to file tax returns in your name down the road, open credit cards in your name, just trying to get your money,’’ she said. “Don’t even engage.’’
Kull also warned about official-looking emails and text messages asking you to click on a link.
“Don’t click on any of those links. They likely contain malware,’’ she said.
For those who will receive their payment in the mail, rather than through direct deposit, Kull says to be on the lookout for phony checks.
It will likely be for an odd amount and requires verification of the check online or by calling a phone number. If that is the case, it is a fraud, she said.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge says federal law enforcement is poised to track down those who try to enrich themselves at the expense of others during this national emergency.
Wire fraud and mail fraud are typically 20-year felonies. But if the federal crimes are tied to the coronavirus pandemic, offenders are looking at an additional 10 years.
“I would not want to be someone who tried to take advantage of the pandemic and find myself in front of a federal judge,’’ he said.
People can report fraud to the IRS at email@example.com or by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721.
Additional information can be found by visiting the IRS website.
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