As a second round of stimulus payments are being sent to Americans, scammers already are preying on people who have been waiting on that cash infusion to help them cope with the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
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. Social Security beneficiaries who received the first round of payments via Direct Express will receive this second payment the same way. They won't have to take any action to get their $600 payment.
The IRS and Treasury Department began making direct deposits on December 29 and began mailing checks on December 30, 2020. If your parents don't receive a payment but are eligible to receive one, they can claim the Recovery Rebate Credit when they file their 2020 federal tax return.
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 or text messages from the IRS: The Better Business Bureau is warning people to watch out for email or text messages with a link to "request benefit payments." The link goes to an application that prompts you to enter personal information to "make sure you are getting all the payments owed to you." The IRS will not reach out by phone, text, email, mail or in person to collect information before sending an Economic Impact Payment. So warn your parents 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 warned Americans when the first round of stimulus payments were sent to be on the lookout for counterfeit 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 first stimulus package were registered, many of which were 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.