Maui Business

IRS Warns of COVID-19 Crisis Scams

April 2, 2020, 9:44 PM HST
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Photo by Wendy Osher.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will begin to distribute COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments in a matter of weeks. For most Americans, this will be a direct deposit into a bank account.

According to the IRS, the unbanked, elderly or other groups that have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check, will receive their economic impact payments in a direct deposit as well.

“With any good news story from the IRS, comes an opportunity for criminals and scammers to
take advantage of the American public,” the IRS warned in a press release.

The IRS is alerting the public of two potential scams: 

  • Scammers may try to get you to sign over your check to them.
  • Scammers may use this as an opportunity to get you to “verify” your filing information in
    order to receive your money, using your personal information to file false tax returns in
    an identity theft scheme.

Between these two schemes, everyone receiving an economic impact payment is at risk.
The Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) is working tirelessly alongside
our civil counterparts and law enforcement partners to identify scams and halt wrongdoers from
taking advantage of the American people.

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“Taxpayers should be extra vigilant for unsolicited phone calls or emails concerning their economic impact payments,” said Justin Campbell, Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle Field Office for IRS-CI.

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“The IRS will not call or email you about your payment. IRS-Criminal Investigation is stepping up our efforts in coordination with the Department of Justice to aggressively investigate anyone that seeks to defraud our community members during this crisis.”

“During this challenging period in our Nation’s history, some fraudsters may try to line their own
pockets by exploiting the vulnerable. My office fully supports the efforts of IRS-CI agents, through their hard work and professionalism, expose and bring to justice those who try to deprive members of our community of precious funds through various scams and fraudulent schemes,” stated U.S. Attorney Kenji M. Price for the District of Hawaiʻi.

Top Line Message from the Internal Revenue Service: 

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The IRS will deposit your economic impact payment into the direct deposit account your previously provide on your tax return (or, in the alternative, send you a paper check). The IRS will not call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do not give out your bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information – even if someone claims it is necessary to get your economic impact payment. Beware of this scam.

If you receive a call, do not engage with scammers or thieves. 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. Do not click on any links in those emails.

Reports are also swirling about bogus checks. If you receive a “check” in the mail now, it’s fraud
– it will take the Treasury Department a few weeks to distribute the payments. If you receive a
“check” for an odd amount (especially one with cents), or a check that requires that you verify
the check online or by calling a number, it’s fraud.

Beware of Scams and Schemes:

IRS-Impersonation Telephone Scams

An aggressive and sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants,
have been making the rounds throughout the country. Callers claim to be employees of the IRS,
but are not. Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a
pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened
with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. Or, victims may be told
they have a refund due to try to trick them into sharing private information.

With COVID-19 scams, they may urge you to pay this fake “debt” with your economic impact
check. For those who receive an actual check, they may ask you to endorse it and forward to
them for “payment of past debts.”

Remember: Scammer Change Tactics – Variations of the IRS impersonation scam continue
year-round and they tend to peak when scammers find prime opportunities to strike – like the
new economic impact check being sent.

Surge in Email, Phishing and Malware Schemes

Scam emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from
the IRS, tax industry professionals or tax software companies. These phishing emails ask
taxpayers about a wide range of topics – related to refunds, filing status, ordering transcripts, and
verifying PIN information – in order to steal your personal information or file tax returns.

When people click on links from these phishing emails, they are taken to sites designed to
imitate an official-looking website, such as IRS.gov. The sites may also carry malware, which
can infect people’s computers to steal their files or record their keystrokes.

Also be aware of email phishing scams that appear to be from the IRS and include a link to a
bogus web site intended to mirror the official IRS web site. These emails contain the direction
“you are to update your IRS e-file immediately.” The emails mention USA.gov and IRSgov
(without a dot between “IRS” and “gov”). Don’t get scammed. These emails are not from the
IRS.

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