Wherever there’s a crisis, there’s usually a scammer trying to make money off of it. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 outbreak is no exception.
The CARES Act, which guarantees $1,200 to most American adults, has given rise to a new set of consumer-targeted scams. The Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of the Treasury have all issued warnings regarding possible COVID-19 stimulus scams.
These phishing schemes often involve emails or text messages that look like they are from your bank or local government. Many of them actually look legit.
In the case of your coronavirus stimulus check, the scammer may say you’re at risk of missing out on your stimulus check. Others might say you’re eligible to get your check early if you send your Social Security or bank account numbers immediately.
Before you send anyone your personal information, here are five questions you should ask yourself to protect you from becoming a victim of a COVID-19 stimulus scam.
As always, the FTC encourages you to protect yourself by not clicking on unknown links, verifying all claims before purchasing a product and hanging up on all robocalls.
1. You Don’t Need to Do Anything if You’ve Filed a 2018 or 2019 Tax Return
The IRS will use the information on your 2019 federal tax return, or your 2018 return if you haven’t filed yet, to send you your stimulus check.
If you filed your taxes in the last two years, you’re set. You don’t need to send any additional information.
If you haven’t, don’t panic. You can still file your taxes for either year.
Regardless of whether you have filed your taxes, do not send your personal information to anyone.
2. The IRS Isn’t Trying to Contact Anyone Right Now
Phishing scams are effective because they often look like they are from a reliable source. However, no matter how official the message seems to be, this fact remains: The IRS is not reaching out to anyone for additional information right now.
The only people who may need to file additional information in the future are those who have not filed a tax return in the last two years.
Even if the email or text message really looks like it could be from the IRS, always communicate with the agency directly through its website.
3. You Don’t Need to Sign Up for Your Stimulus Check
You do not need to sign up for your stimulus check. Any message asking you to do so is a scam.
The only reason you will need to do anything at all is if you have not filed your 2018 or 2019 tax return.
The FTC also said in a recent blog post that you’ll never have to pay anything upfront to receive payment from the government.
If you’ve already received a check, it’s definitely a scam. The IRS won’t start mailing paper checks until April 24 at the earliest.
4. You Don’t Have to Worry About Missing Out on Your Stimulus Check
The payments will be available throughout the rest of 2020. In fact, you can still collect the money on your 2020 tax return next year if your 2018 or 2019 tax filings disqualify you from the check but your 2020 earnings are lower.
If you still need to file your 2018 or 2019 taxes, do so as quickly as possible. But an email or text message telling you that you’re going to miss out on your stimulus check is just trying to coax you into giving up personal information. Don’t do it.
5. The IRS Won’t Ask for Personal Information Via Text or Email
The IRS will never use email or text messages to ask you to send your Social Security number or bank account and credit card information. It will either already have your information or it will have a secure way to receive it. The best course of action is to ignore, decline or delete all attempts to acquire any of your sensitive information.
Still have questions? Click here for our guide to the coronavirus stimulus checks.
Be Aware of These Other Coronavirus-Related Scams
Law enforcement officials are warning the public about other coronavirus-related scams.
The FBI’s San Diego office has cautioned the public about text messages promising $130 in Costco “freebies.” Officials say even clicking on the link in the text message releases malware or other programs that are able to capture your personal or financial information.
The United States Department of Justice also released a list of health-related scams, which include schemes promising treatment or medical supplies.
In addition, the Federal Trade Commission has already identified seven sellers of mislabeled products. Officials say these retailers sell teas and essential oils as cures for the novel coronavirus, even though there is still no known treatment for the disease.
Anna Brugmann is a contributor to Codetic.