It always feels good to get your taxes filed — a little later this year because the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the filing date from April to July. Unfortunately, the outbreak also opened up a door for scammers to prey on people amidst the confusion and emotion that come with a national emergency.
Scammers have become even more aggressive as the government sets up unemployment and rebate programs to help people impacted by COVID. Be on the lookout for these scams as the year progresses. While they are related to tax season, they can also be perpetrated at any time.
Phishing involves sending emails with links to try to trick people into handing over their personal information. The scammer will claim to be from the IRS and may request bank account or Social Security numbers from the recipient. Now, phishers are using subject lines that refer to the recent stimulus checks sent by the IRS, such as “Important coronavirus stimulus information” or “Problem with your COVID-19 stimulus check.”
While it can be alarming to receive such an email, don’t click on the links. The IRS never contacts taxpayers about tax bills or refunds over email. If you get such a note, report it to the agency.
As terrible as it sounds, many scammers take advantage of national crises to appeal to people’s kindness by claiming to raise money for a nonprofit. With COVID-19 weighing on people’s minds, scammers claim to donate money for coronavirus relief efforts or researching a cure.
Before promising any money, check if the supposed charity is listed on the IRS website. You can research its Form 990 to see a financial breakdown. While some new charities may not have these filings, a quick Google search will tell you all you need to know. If the “charity’s” website includes misspellings and looks fishy, do not donate and instead report the charity to the IRS.
Economic Stimulus Check Stealing
Some people are still waiting for their stimulus checks — not because they were never sent but because of mail fraud or stealing. If you have not gotten your check, contact the IRS to see if it has been sent out. If it has, then you need to report it stolen.
Threatening Phone Calls
The IRS will not call and say you are going to be arrested or that you have to pay $10,000 within 48 hours. Scammers employ scare tactics to make people worry and abandon their good judgment. If you receive a call like this, do not give out any information to the caller. Instead, call the IRS directly and tell them what the caller said to you.
Fraudsters often target seniors in their scams. Warn family members and be vigilant if you are 65 or older. Also, beware of tax preparers who are not certified. Ask to see their Preparer Tax Identification Number.
Whenever someone approaches you about money, be cautious. If it sounds too good to be true or too terrible to imagine, it’s probably a scam. Knowing the risks will help you protect yourself and your money.