April 17, 2020
In March, Congress passed the $2 trillion relief bill designed to offset the financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The bill included stimulus checks for individuals and families. While this was great news for many Americans, scammers decided to take advantage of this opportunity to steal identities and swindle people out of hard-earned money.
As discussions continue about a second possible stimulus, Americans can easily become victims thinking they're just giving out the information necessary to get their stimulus checks. To protect yourself, read the IRS FAQs on economic impact payments and review this list of scams to look out for related to stimulus check fraud.
- Fake checks
For the most part, the government deposited stimulus checks directly into people’s bank account. So if you got a paper check, inspect it carefully before depositing it into your account. One way to check the validity of such checks is to take a close look at the amount. Most counterfeit checks provide odd amounts with cents. If there’s some indication that you need to call a number to activate the check or verify it in some way, this is probably a scam.
- Social media messages
Do not respond to social media messages from people you don't recognize. The federal government will not contact you in this way, no matter how the scammer makes it look. If the scammer offers to apply your stimulus payment to health care expenses or some other expense if you just verify some information, do not engage with the person.
- Information requesting you verify your social security number
You should not have to verify your social security number to get your stimulus check or verify your check in any way. Scammers use your social security number to steal your identity and perhaps take your money. Do not give out your social security number on any unsecured forms or over the phone unless you’ve called a trusted customer service line.
- Services that promise to speed up your stimulus payment for a fee
The only way to speed up your stimulus payment is to ensure the government has valid information for you, including a bank account it can deposit the money into. Services that make a promise to ensure you get your check sooner by charging processing fees are total scams.
- Cash advance on your stimulus check
Be very wary of cash advances in general. Avoid offers of cash advances to protect the full value of your stimulus check.
Stimulus fraud red flags
In summary, here are a few red flags that indicate that you might be interacting with a scammer instead of the federal government related to stimulus checks.
- While the term “stimulus check” is used widely, the proper term is actually “economic impact payment.” Scammers might use the term stimulus check instead of the official term. Look for “economic impact payment” on official government communication related to your check.
- Phone calls, emails, text messages or social media messages requesting your personal data. The IRS would never contact you using these unsecured methods. Valid requests for information will come through the mail or via the official IRS website.
- Offers to speed your stimulus check payment. The only valid way to do this is to make sure the government has valid information for you and a bank account on file.
- False checks. There won’t be any strings attached or required validation to cash your check from the government. If there are, this is a false check and a way to collect your personal information with malicious intent.
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