Stimulus checks: There's a new round of scams, too. Here's how to avoid them
Susan Tompor, Detroit Free Press
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
And why wouldn't we suspect that the scammers would be tapping into all the buzz about the latest round of stimulus cash?
Now, the Federal Trade Commission is warning Americans to be on the lookout for stimulus-related emails that supposedly are being sent by Joseph Simons, the FTC chairman who announced Tuesday that he plans to resign effective Jan. 29.
In the past year, about 324,000 reports relating to COVID-19 and stimulus-related scams and ripoffs have been made to the FTC through Jan. 18. Consumers reported losing $307 million to fraud that plays up the pandemic.
The latest coronavirus relief scam involves emails that are designed to look as if they're coming from an official government agency, and Simons specifically.
Joe Simons isn't emailing you; it's a scam.
The email includes a "certificate of approval" for your stimulus cash.
The scam demands that you pay taxes upfront to receive the money.
The FTC noted that sometimes the scam involves a follow-up but fake letter from the IRS to make the deal seem that much more legitimate.
"If you pay," according to an FTC alert, "they say you must pay the State Department for a certificate that proves the funds are not related to any terrorist activity and the money is cleared for you to receive. (Yes, really!)"
And you'll even get some phony paperwork to show that the stimulus money is on its way to your bank account, if you fall for the scam and pay some reported taxes upfront.
Red flags of a stimulus scam
One red flag: The Economic Impact Payments being sent by the IRS and the U.S. Treasury Department are not taxable.
Another red flag: You do not have to pay money upfront via gift cards or anything else to receive the stimulus cash.
And yet another red flag: The FTC isn't involved in the stimulus payments in any way.
Again, the IRS isn't sending out emails, texting or making phone calls about the latest round of stimulus payments, which began being paid out Dec. 30. But scammers can rig up a caller ID to make a phone call look like it's from the IRS or another government agency.
Some reports indicate that text scam might promise that the latest $600 stimulus check will be sent directly to your bank account – only if you click on a link, text back or email your bank account information. Don't do it.
You can go to IRS.gov/coronavirus for information about stimulus payments.
Don't fall for any scammer who says they know a secret on how to get that stimulus payment by filing a tax return either. The Recovery Rebate Credit is on all 1040 forms and it's not a secret strategy. It's on Line 30.
A variety of scams are likely to crop up and play off the stimulus money. The schemes are crafted to get your cash or your key personal information, such as Social Security account information, bank account numbers or passwords.
You might see something like a text message that asks for your bank account number so that that the Economic Impact Payment can be directly deposited into your account. Don't fall for it. The IRS isn't sending out those emails.
You can report such fraud at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
How crooks are targeting small businesses
Fraudsters also are cranking out emails that claim to come from the “Small Business Administration Office of Disaster Assistance.”
The pitch is that you're pre-approved for a loan valued at up to $250,000.
The program reportedly provides "low interest disaster loans to businesses of all sizes, private nonprofit organizations, homeowners, and renters to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment, inventory and business assets that have been damaged or destroyed."
Of course, the email asks for your Social Security number and other key ID that crooks love to use to take out loans in your name.
The FTC notes that phony websites are pretending to be part of the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which has been extended to Dec. 31, 2021.
Some small business owners also report that they’ve been asked to repay loans they didn't apply for last year. It's possible that crooks illegally applied for the loans using stolen ID information.
How scammers want you to 'pay' taxes
As the tax season moves forward, consumers also need to be warned about other scams, too.
Now that many people have a bit more money, if they've received their latest stimulus check, they could be willing to take care of some old bills.
Con artists will impersonate the Internal Revenue Service and a variety of state tax departments to get you to pay up on back taxes.
The Michigan Department of Treasury warned in January that an aggressive scam has begun to target consumers in northern Michigan.
The letter has a heading that reads: "Call Immediately to Prevent Property Loss."
The scheme focuses on your overdue tax bill, demanding that you call a toll-free number immediately to take care of this state tax debt.
The letter "aggressively threatens to seize a taxpayer’s property – including bank accounts, wages, business assets, cars, real estate and cash – if the debt is not settled," the Treasury stated.
“Over the last week, we have seen an uptick in reports of taxpayers receiving these letters,” Deputy State Treasurer Ann Good, who oversees Treasury’s Financial and Administrative Services programs, said in a statement.
“Taxpayers have rights. If you have questions about an outstanding state tax debt, please contact us through a verified number so we can talk about options.”
Don't react simply because a letter might seem to know how much you owe in back taxes. Such information can be pulled by scammers from public databases.
Don't rush to pay anyone. You don't want to think you're clearing up a financial mess only to find out that you handed over your hard earned cash to a crook.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press