With households throughout Southern California and the rest of the country slated to receive federal stimulus checks this month, the Internal Revenue Service Wednesday warned recipients to be alert to scam artists posing as federal officials seeking to steal their funds.
According to the IRS, scammers using telephone and internet schemes will likely multiply as the checks are deposited directly into bank accounts or sent via mail.
Under the roughly $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security — CARES — Act signed into law by President Donald Trump last week, taxpayers who fall within defined income parameters will receive $1,200 checks from the U.S. Treasury, with additional amounts for dependent children.
“While much of the country is working from home, scammers and con artists are also working — on schemes to steal your money,” Los Angeles-based U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. “Criminals are taking advantage of the health emergency, so I urge everyone to heed the warnings to protect your personal information, your bank account and anything potentially valuable to a fraudster. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute criminals, but we need everyone to be extra careful so they can avoid becoming a victim.”
According to the IRS, based on past experience, there is a high likelihood thieves will try several different tactics in an attempt to swindle people out of their money.
In every instance, imposters will represent themselves as either IRS employees or in some way affiliated with the federal government, according to the IRS.
Officials said would-be victims may be contacted by phone, and scam artists will pretend to require verification of Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and other personal identifying information, purportedly to ensure checks are routed to the appropriate place.
“If you receive a call, do not engage with scammers or thieves. Just hang up,” the IRS said. “If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal information or clicking on links, delete them.”
Officials said emails tied to phishing and malware scams are in the works.
“Scam emails are designed to trick taxpayers into thinking these are official communications from the IRS, tax industry professionals or tax software companies,” the agency said. “These phishing emails ask taxpayers about a wide range of topics — related to refunds, filing status, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information — in order to steal your personal information or file false tax returns.”
Links in the emails may take recipients to an official-looking page, including one designed to replicate the IRS’ own homepage, and the website will contain links that, when clicked on, cause a user’s computer or other electronic device to be infected with malware.
Sites may also request that recipients enter personal information in order to “update your IRS e-file,” which is another way of capturing details needed to perpetrate identity theft, according to the IRS.
The sites may be listed as IRSgov — without a dot in the URL — or USA.gov, and they’re bogus, officials said.
“Unfortunately, criminals are taking this unprecedented pandemic as an opportunity to exploit the public,” IRS Special Agent Ryan Korner said. “It is critical now more than ever to remain vigilant for scams that are attempting to steal your personal information and your money.”
Anyone who believes they have been the target of a scam that resulted in ID theft or the loss of funds is urged to contact their local law enforcement agency.