By the time the federal government started sending out stimulus checks the week of April 13, scammers already had been preying on people who had been waiting on that cash infusion to help them cope with the financial fallout from the coronavirus.
The IRS has warned that retirees need to be especially careful to avoid becoming victims of stimulus check scams. At any given time, older adults are frequent targets of scammers, who see them as an easy source of cash. However, seniors likely are facing more attempts to con them as thieves ramp up their efforts to take advantage of the current situation.
If you’re worried that your parents could become victims, you should be taking steps to help protect them. Here’s what you can do to reduce your parents’ risk of being scammed.
Explain to them how payments are being made
Taxpayers who filed a federal tax return for 2018 or 2019 and received a refund using direct deposit will automatically have their Economic Impact Payment (the official name of the stimulus payment) deposited into their checking accounts. If your parents’ retirement income was too low to file a return, they might be confused about how they’ll get their payment – which can make them easier targets for scammers.
According to the IRS, retirees who don’t normally file a tax return won’t have to take any action to get their $1,200 payment. If they receive Social Security benefits, Veterans Affairs benefits or Railroad Retirement benefits, the IRS will use information from their 2019 benefits to automatically send a payment by electronic deposit or by mail.
If your parents didn’t receive Social Security or other federal benefits and don’t normally file a tax return, they will need to file a tax return for 2019 or use the IRS Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool to get their payment.
If your parents filed a return but didn’t get a refund or didn’t get a refund by direct deposit, their payment will be mailed to the address that the IRS has on file. However, they can use the IRS Get My Payment tool to provide their bank account information to have a payment deposited electronically.
Alert your parents to scam red flags
You can reduce the risk that your parents will become victims by warning them about the types of scams that are circulating. Help them keep their guard up by telling them about these common schemes.
Calls from the IRS: The IRS will not reach out by phone, email, mail or in person to collect information before sending payments. So warn your parents that if they are contacted by someone claiming to be with the IRS, it’s a scam.
Fake stimulus checks: The Secret Service and Treasury Department are warning Americans to be on the lookout for counterfeit stimulus checks. Legitimate checks will have a Treasury seal that says “Bureau of Fiscal Service” in ink that will run when wet, a watermark that reads “U.S. Treasury” and the words “Economic Impact Payment President Donald J. Trump” on the lower right side beside an image of the Statue of Liberty. The Secret Service has a guide to U.S. Treasury check security features. Scammers are sending out fake checks with a number to call or website to visit to verify personal information in order to cash the checks. Or they might tell taxpayers that the checks they received were overpayments and that they need to send money back.
Requests for payment or personal information to expedite a stimulus payment: Warn your parents that they can’t get the payment faster by paying someone. This is a scam. It’s also a scam if they get an unsolicited call, email or text message asking them to provide their personal information to speed up delivery of their payment.
Fake websites: Cyber security software firm Check Point found that more than 4,000 website domains related to the stimulus package have been registered, many of which are scam sites meant to trick people into providing their personal information. Beware of sites using the words “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment” because the official term is economic impact payment. In fact, your parents should not be using any site other than IRS.gov when it comes to their economic impact payment.
What to do if your parents are targeted
Tell your parents to forward any suspicious emails, text messages or social media messages to email@example.com. They also can report fraudulent calls to that email address, including the number of the caller and a description of the call.
If they are victims of fraud, they can call the Justice Department’s National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If their identity was stolen to claim their stimulus checks, they also should file a report with their local law enforcement. And they can put a freeze on all of their credit reports by visiting the websites for the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. A credit freeze will prevent thieves from opening accounts in their names because lenders can’t authorize new lines of credit without seeing their credit reports first.
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