The global coronavirus pandemic has changed every single facet of our world – from the way we work to how we live our day-to-day lives – and we have been forced to quickly adjust to a new normal.
Unfortunately, there are those out there who seek to take advantage of this turbulent time.
The Internal Revenue Service and other government agencies have noted a rise in scams and other fraudulent activities surrounding the COVID-19 crisis. There are individuals and groups both in the United States and in countries across the world who are attempting to take advantage of unwitting taxpayers and business owners.
Let’s take a look at what you should look out for as you navigate the current environment.
Economic Impact Payments
While many Americans may have already received their economic impact payment (sometimes called stimulus checks), there are still some citizens awaiting their payments. Individuals should stay alert for phone calls, emails, or other methods of communication from those seeking their personal information related to the economic impact payments.
Targeting Tax Refunds
Taxpayers have experienced numerous scams and illegal actions which target intercepting a tax refund owed to a taxpayer, or in some cases, fraudulently creating tax returns with a taxpayers’ personal information.
The scams are numerous and come in a variety of forms.
One scheme involves filing a fraudulent tax return on behalf of an unsuspecting taxpayer. When the refund is deposited into the taxpayer’s bank account, the fraudster contacts the taxpayer impersonating an IRS representative. The fake IRS representative advises the taxpayer that the refund has been deposited in error and encourages them to purchase gift cards in order to restore the balance to the IRS.
When the actual IRS representatives eventually discover the scam, the taxpayer is responsible for repaying the funds a second time.
A second scam involves the scammer creating fraudulent tax returns using a taxpayer’s personal information. In this case, the fraudster uses their own deposit information as a way to intercept the refund.
If you are expecting a tax refund or receive a deposit from the IRS that you do not recognize, you should reach out directly to the IRS to confirm your status or to receive instructions on next steps.
Fake Charities and Investment Opportunities
The IRS has advised that there are people setting up charities purported to be for the benefit of those impacted by the COVID-19 virus.
In addition, there are individuals who are maintaining that they represent companies who are working on a vaccine to combat the virus. They offer to allow you to invest in their companies and receive a significant return on your investment once the vaccine is ready.
What Should You Do?
If you think that you may have been the victim of a COVID-19 related scam, you are encouraged to file a report with the appropriate government authorities.
The National Center of Disaster Fraud has a complaint form on its website where you can voice your concerns. If you prefer to speak with someone, you can call their hotline number at 866-720-5721.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration is available to receive complaints related to theft of your economic impact payment.
Finally, if you are the subject of a phishing scam, where fraudsters are seeking to gain your personal information, you should alert the Internal Revenue Service at their firstname.lastname@example.org email address.
It is important to stay vigilant against those seeking to steal your hard-earned money or personal information during this troubling time.