WHAT ARE STIMULUS PAYMENTS AND WHO ISSUES THEM?
Stimulus checks, defined as government economic impact payments, are designed to help taxpayers through financially tough periods by spending money while stimulating the economy. Persons who qualify must meet income levels to be eligible for payments. These payments are part of a larger federal stimulus package issued by the United States Treasury, which the IRS is a bureau of, to qualified taxpayers. Payments may come by mail, direct deposit, or other means typically used by the IRS or Social Security Administration to make payments to individuals. Or an equivalent tax credit may be applied to a taxpayer’s income tax return. Scary to say, there are many scams out there related to stimulus payments – whereby unscrupulous thieves seek to get ahold of other people’s money. Thus, it is vital to be aware of scams.
HOW DO STIMULUS PAYMENT SCAMMERS FIND THEIR TARGETS?
Scammers will likely try to reach people in one of the following ways: by calling their home, work, or cell number, by texting, or by messaging or emailing. They may also target social media sites. Some scammers may use a combination of those approaches to get their victims. And sometimes they may make threats. Less likely, but possibly, scammers may go door to door. Their goals are to gain access to personal information and steal your money. Retirees are at high risk of scams as they are directly targeted. Not only have most accumulated a lifetime worth of savings, but some are isolated, rendering them prime targets of financial scams. Though exact numbers are hard to pinpoint, per MarketPlace, a study out of New York State shows that older people lose anywhere up to $36 billion per year from financial exploitation as few as one in 44 cases are ever reported.
HOW DO I KNOW WHERE MY PAYMENT IS GOING?
Most people receive their payments using methods that the IRS or SSA uses for them, whether it be a check, direct deposit, or a Direct Express debit card. Per the Federal Trade Commission, a person can visit the “Get My Payment” feature at irs.gov/coronavirus to let them know where to send a direct deposit. Also, taxpayers may use that same website to check the status of payment. For people who do not file a tax return, visit the “Non-filer” portal to explore what to do to claim the money. If you didn’t get any payments or got less than the full amounts and meet the criteria, you may qualify for the Recovery Rebate Credit and must file a 2020 tax return to claim the credit even if you don’t normally file.
HOW CAN PEOPLE AVOID STIMULUS PAYMENT SCAMS?
The FTC has issued sturdy warnings to avoid scams related to Economic Impact Payments. Here are some key points: 1) Only use irs.gov/coronavirus to submit information to the IRS. 2) NEVER respond to calls, texts, or emails, even ones that seem convincing. The IRS will NOT contact you to ask about stimulus payments. 3) Understand that you do NOT have to pay anything to get your stimulus money. 4) Know that the IRS will NOT tell you to deposit your stimulus check and then send them money back because they overpaid you. That is a fake check scam. 5) You will NOT be contacted to confirm personal information. 6) Avoid investing your stimulus payment in stocks and products that claim to prevent, detect, or cure COVID-19. Fraudsters often pressure people to invest or make false claims that are too good to be true.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO IF WE ARE BEING SCAMMED?
Hang up on calls regarding stimulus checks. They are fake. Delete or block suspicious texts. If you get questionable emails, do NOT open them, and do NOT click on any links. Send them directly to spam. Do NOT open your door to strangers. If someone you know is asking for your stimulus check, and you believe that you are at risk of being scammed by a family member or close friend, contact a knowledgeable source, such as your accountant or another person you trust, for advice. If you are being threatened, report it to the police. The Federal Trade Commission greatly encourages you to report scams at ftc.gov/complaint.
Additionally, they encourage you to sign up for the FTC’s consumer alerts. The government agency site also features videos and tips on how to avoid scams related to stimulus checks. Since scams of this sort are commonplace, all, especially retirees, are encouraged to stay on high alert!