With the coronavirus stimulus packages passed in Washington, scammers and fraudsters see an opportunity to take advantage of people trying to make ends meet or keep their businesses afloat.
Both the IRS, SBA, the U.S. Secret Service, and local, state, and federal agencies have issued warnings on coronavirus related scams and phishing attacks.
The Internal Revenue Service urges taxpayers to be on the lookout for a surge of calls and email phishing attempts about the coronavirus, or COVID-19. These contacts can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.
“We urge people to take extra care during this period. The IRS isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster. That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don’t open them or click on attachments or links. Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information.”
IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig
Taxpayers should watch not only for emails but text messages, websites and social media attempts that request money or personal information.
“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. 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.”
IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort
Don’t Fall Prey to Coronavirus Tricks
The IRS and its Criminal Investigation Division have seen a wave of new and evolving phishing schemes against taxpayers.
In most cases, the IRS will deposit economic impact payments into the direct deposit account taxpayers previously provided on tax returns.
Those taxpayers who have previously filed but not provided direct deposit information to the IRS will be able to provide their banking information online to a newly designed secure portal on IRS.gov in mid-April.
If the IRS does not have a taxpayer’s direct deposit information, a check will be mailed to the address on file. Taxpayers should not provide their direct deposit or other banking information for others to input on their behalf into the secure portal.
DIRECT DEPOSIT UPDATE: The IRS and Intuit have partnered on a web portal to provide direct deposit information for persons who do not have to file a tax return. This site can be found here.
As of this writing, there is no web portal yet from the IRS for taxpayers that have to file 2019 tax returns to report their direct deposit information if they did not provide that information in their 2018 tax return. If this happens, this post will be updated with that information.
Special Warning to Retirees
The IRS also reminds retirees who don’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return that no action on their part is needed to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment.
Seniors should be especially careful during this period. The IRS reminds retirees – including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 − that no one from the agency will be reaching out to them by phone, email, mail or in-person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment, also sometimes referred to as rebates or stimulus payments.
The IRS is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to retirees – no additional action or information is needed on their part to receive this.
The IRS reminds taxpayers that 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/or 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.
Reporting Coronavirus-Related or Other Phishing Attempts
Those who receive unsolicited emails, text messages or social media attempts to gather the information that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), should forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Taxpayers are encouraged not to engage potential scammers online or on the phone. Learn more about reporting suspected scams by going to the Report Phishing and Online Scams page on IRS.gov.
Official IRS information about the COVID-19 pandemic and economic impact payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page on IRS.gov. The page is updated quickly when new information is available.
The Office of Inspector General recognizes that the U.S. is facing unprecedented times and is alerting the public about potential fraud schemes related to economic stimulus programs offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration in response to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19).
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), the largest financial assistance bill to date, includes provisions to help small businesses.
Fraudsters have already begun targeting small business owners during these economically difficult times. The SBA warns to be on the lookout for grant fraud, loan fraud, and phishing.
Scams and Fraud Schemes
- SBA does not initiate contact on either 7a or Disaster loans or grants. If you are proactively contacted by someone claiming to be from the SBA, suspect fraud.
- If you are contacted by someone promising to get the approval of an SBA loan, but requires any payment upfront or offers a high-interest bridge loan in the interim, suspect fraud.
- SBA limits the fees a broker can charge a borrower to 3% for loans $50,000 or less and 2% for loans $50,000 to $1,000,000 with an additional ¼% on amounts over $1,000,000. Any attempt to charge more than these fees is inappropriate.
- If you have a question about getting an SBA disaster loan, call 800-659-2955 or send an email to email@example.com.
- If you have questions about other SBA lending products, call SBA’s Answer Desk at 800-827-5722 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you are in the process of applying for an SBA loan and receive email correspondence asking for PII, ensure that the referenced application number is consistent with the actual application number.
- Look out for phishing attacks/scams utilizing the SBA logo. These may be attempts to obtain your personally identifiable information (PII) to obtain personal banking access or to install ransomware/malware on your computer.
- Any email communication from SBA will come from accounts ending with sba.gov.
- The presence of an SBA logo on a webpage does not guaranty the information is accurate or endorsed by SBA. Please cross-reference any information you receive with information available at www.sba.gov.
Report any suspected fraud to OIG’s Hotline at 800-767-0385 or online at, https://www.sba.gov/about-sba/oversight-advocacy/office-inspector-general/office-inspector-general-hotline.
Additional Warnings From U.S. Secret Service and N.Y. State Attorney General
- The U.S. Secret Service also issued a warning about phishing attacks and scams in a public memo issued on March 9. 2020.
- New York State Attorney Letitia James demanded Domain name registrars crack down on domain name registrations and malicious use of coronavirus-related domain names.
While these are challenging times and can be overwhelming and even typically vigilant persons can be trapped because of the economic financial crisis this pandemic is causing, taking some extra time to confirm and verify and confirm again will go along way to avoid of being scammed and not receiving the financial help being requested.
All Federal Government communication will come from a .gov domain. Sometimes they can be obscured in emails. Therefore, when clicking on links it is important to confirm the domain name shown in the browser is a .gov address.
There are no magic shortcuts to receive the money faster either through the U.S. Treasury direct payment program for individuals and families through the IRS or the various SBA loan programs being offered to small businesses.
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