Urging people to watch out for COVID-19, tax scams
WASHINGTON (CBS19 NEWS) -- State and federal organizations are urging people to be alert to possible scams related to taxes and the coronavirus.
The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force, the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigations, and the Secret Service say taxpayers should be wary about possible scams related to economic impact payments.
According to a release, it’s part of an effort to prevent taxpayers in need from being victimized by criminals targeting the payments as an opportunity to commit a crime.
“During this time of crisis, scammers and thieves prey on those most vulnerable in our community in an attempt to personally benefit by stealing their money and personal identifying information,” said Kelly Jackson, the Special Agent in Charge of the IRS-CI Washington Field Office. “Please help us protect everyone in your community by telling family, friends and elderly neighbors to be on the lookout for these potential scams.”
“Americans need to be extremely vigilant in protecting their personal, financial and tax information,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen of the Western District of Virginia. “Assume all unsolicited phone calls and emails regarding IRS or COVID-19 refunds and are potentially fraudulent. Do not respond and report them to law enforcement.”
The release says the COVID-19 economic impact payments will be on their way to people in a matter of weeks.
For most people, this money will be directly deposited into bank accounts, but others will receive a traditional paper check through the mail if that is how they opt to receive their tax refund, should they receive one.
The release says scammers may try to get people to sign over their check to them or try to “verify” filing information in order to steal money.
A victim’s personal information can be used to file false tax returns as part of an identity theft scheme, and officials say anyone who gets a COVID-19 economic impact payment is at risk.
In its 2019 Consumer Sentinel Network Report, the Federal Trade Commission said identity theft in all of its various forms was the single biggest type of complaint, with more than 650,000 reports, costing taxpayers $1.9 billion every year.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual tax-filing deadline has been moved to July 15.
The Secret Service says people don’t need to take any action if they have already filed their 2019 individual tax return, but those who have not yet filed, who have recently moved, and/or who may have closed a bank account that was listed on their 2018 tax return will need to update information with the IRS. This may cause a delay in them receiving the economic impact payout and could make them a prime target for identity theft.
No matter what, there are things people can do to protect themselves or to identify a possible scam situation.
First, the IRS will not call anyone to ask to verify payment details, so anyone who receives such a call should not give out bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information.
Anyone who receives a potential scam call is encouraged to hang up immediately, and not engage with them.
Anyone who receives a text or email claiming they can get their money faster by sending personally identifying information should delete such messages and not click on any links they contain.
It will take a few weeks for the U.S. Treasury to process and mail out the COVID-19 economic impact payments to people who are going to receive paper checks, so anyone who gets a check in mail now should assume it is a scam, especially if the check is for a strange amount including cents or if the check requires verification online or by calling a phone number.
Some other tips to protect yourself from falling victim to a tax scam include filing your return as early as possible.
Anyone who receives a suspicious call, email, text or social media request soliciting personal information should try to verify with the organization that it was trying to contact them.
People should also check their annual income-earning statements to see if there are any unexplained earnings that could mean someone else is using the same identity.
When filing online, make sure to have current software and antivirus programs and be vigilant regarding potential phishing messages.
Passwords should be changed frequently, and if possible, people are encouraged to turn on a dual-factor authentication system.
When going to a website, input the domain name manually instead of clicking on a link.
Signs of tax scams and identity theft may include an inability to file a tax return due to a duplicate Social Security number; the IRS sending a letter asking about a suspicious tax return, additional tax or refund offset, or there having been collection actions taken against a person for a year they did not file a return; you receive a tax transcript in the mail that was not requested; or you receive an email from the IRS indicating that an online account has been created, opened or closed when no actions occurred.