Tax authorities are warning Americans that cybercriminals are likely to exploit the COVID-19 crisis to target them with new types of hacks and scams.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said in a statement on Thursday that its Criminal Investigation Division discovered “a wave of new and evolving phishing schemes against taxpayers” that could lead to identity theft and tax-related fraud.
To avoid being scammed, Americans should be especially wary of schemes tied to economic impact payments. An immediate red flag should be correspondence with the words “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment,” the IRS said, because the official term is “economic impact payment.”
“We urge people to take extra care during this period. The IRS isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig.
Seniors, in particular, should exercise greater caution at this time. No one from the IRS would be contacting retirees in any form about the economic impact payment, sometimes also referred to as a rebate. Officials said seniors that don’t typically have to file a tax return would get the $1,200 economic impact payment automatically.
Tax officials warned of a probable surge of calls and email phishing attempts related to COVID-19, the disease the CCP virus causes.
“That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don’t open them or click on attachments or links. Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information,” Rettig said in the statement.
Taxpayers were advised not just be careful with emails but to bear in mind that criminals might embed phishing links in text messages, on websites, and in social media communications. Clicking a link or opening an attachment may install malware, like viruses, ransomware, or spyware.
“History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort.
Scammers might try ask taxpayers to sign over their economic impact payment check to them, or ask for verification of personal or banking information. Criminals might claim that by giving this information, people will get their relief check faster.
“While you are waiting to hear about your economic impact payment, criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on it. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is working hard to find these scammers and shut them down, but in the meantime, we ask people to remain vigilant,” Fort said.
Typically, the IRS will deposit economic impact payments into the direct deposit account that the agency has on file from previously filed tax returns.
People who did not provide direct deposit information earlier to the IRS will be able to do so on a secure website at IRS.gov.
The agency said it would mail a check to the address on file if it does not have a taxpayer’s direct deposit information.
Officials also said criminals might mail bogus physical checks to people and ask them to call a number or go online and provide information to cash it.
Other scams could involve criminals claiming they could work on behalf of their victims to process an economic impact payment faster. This could be done in person or on social media, the IRS warns.
“Official IRS information about the COVID-19 pandemic and economic impact payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page on IRS.gov,” the agency said.