Fraudulent activity always spikes around tax season, now more than ever since the IRS released stimulus payments. Add to it the variety of hardships that COVID-19 has caused and well… unfortunately, fraudsters only see opportunity after opportunity.
We’ve rounded up cases that are happening right now, targeting both of these important matters. While some of them will seem like obvious things that you would say ‘no’ to, in the heat of the moment, you might be surprised at what you’d fall for. Criminals often use threatening language, make false claims of support, or attempt to tease you into wanting to find out more. Are you feeling panic, fearful, hopeful, or curious? Emotions are a powerful tool used to prey on consumers. Don’t let the fraudsters bank on yours.
Be on the lookout for these examples:
- We need to verify the account for your stimulus or refund: You may receive calls or emails from people pretending to be your bank or the IRS. The caller will want to “verify” that they have the right account information to deposit your stimulus check. They will ask for your account number, routing number, social security number, or anything to verify that it’s you. Never give this kind of information to anyone. The IRS will use the account information from your 2018 or 2019 tax return to make those deposits. You can update your account information directly on the IRS website, under the ‘Get My Payment’ section, if you are concerned.
- There’s a problem with the deposit: Similar to the last example, a fraudster may reach out because they are “having trouble depositing into your account.” So, they will ask to verify your online banking credentials (or other identifying info), so they can deposit it directly into your account. This will only give them access to do as they please.
- We’re an agency that can help expedite your stimulus: You do not need an agency to represent you. If you have filed a tax return, the IRS knows who you are. If you have not, there is a “Non-Filers” link on the IRS site where you can update your information. If you’d like to talk to someone outside of the IRS because you have questions, your local accountant, CPA or Tax agency can provide direction.
- I can’t get my refund. Will you help me? Someone may contact you and explain that they are having trouble getting their IRS refund or stimulus check. So, they hope that you will allow the IRS to deposit into your account on their behalf. Then you can meet your new friend and give them cash for the deposit. The only trouble is, that person isn’t your friend, and that deposit isn’t real. The deposit will be returned and you’ll be out the cash.
- I need you to send money on my behalf: Similar to the last example, you could be asked to receive funds in any kind of method, like a check, wire, or MoneyGram. Then you will be given instructions to move it to another account. Examples include someone who desperately needs to get money to a relative under home quarantine, and they are having a problem with their account. Engaging in this kind of activity would make you what’s called a “Money Mule” or “Smurfer.” This is someone who helps to move money around in illegal activity.
In most cases, this is just a clever way to collect your money. Other times, this kind of transaction is tied to other things. If it turns out to be illegal activity, you could be held liable even if you didn’t know the true nature behind the request.
- Employees Testing Positive for COVID-19: KnowB4 reports fake emails that claim some of your employees (or someone you know) has tested positive. It appears to be from someone at your company. Names won’t be listed in the body of the message. You’ll have to click the attachment to see the names. However, if you open the attachment, it may include ransomware, key loggers, or various other forms of malware that can steal your information and provide access to your accounts. Text scams of this nature are also being reported.
- We have your toilet paper and facemasks: It’s true. If you need it, there will be someone who can exploit it. So these scams can look one of two ways. Either the agency does have the product that you need, and they offer it at an inflated price, or they never had the product at all. They just wanted your money and knew you’d buy their product. Right now it’s best to stick with someone that you know.
- Collecting donations for hardships: As we all know, many businesses and individuals are facing devastating circumstances right now. Fraudsters know this too, so they will set up pages with donation links or have people calling on a fake agency’s behalf. These opportunities may even present as ways to say “thank you” to our much deserving medical staff. If you don’t know the individual or company, skip it and find a local organization.
- Work from home: This kind of opportunity has always had a lot of appeal. However, with people losing their jobs, or with being confined by home sheltering guidelines, it has more interest than usual. The fraud here is that there is no work. Scammers will collect your confidential information so that they can “deposit your paycheck” or “run a background check” before you start work. Sounds legit, right? That’s the problem.
- The deal of a lifetime: Everyone is ready to get out of the house by now. Travel companies and airlines are also losing money. So, when you are offered that trip to Mexico or to your favorite beach for a quarter of the cost, it will sound like music to your ears. While there are big discounts on travel when it’s booked in advance, this can be someone simply trying to collect your funds. Go straight to the major airline and confirm.
Fraudulent activity is always at work around us. Criminals know just how to hit a weak spot or pull your heartstrings. They are good at being bad. So, it is more important than ever to be vigilant right now. If something sounds fishy or too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t share your personal information with anyone, and please call us if you feel like you have a good reason to do so.
If you feel like you have been a victim of ID Theft, please contact us right away. 877-436-9032
To learn more about our ID Theft Protection and Monitoring service, visit our page.
To report scams or price gouging, reach out to the OAG Consumer Protection Section at 1-800-552-9963
To stay up to date with the IRS Payments follow: https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments