IRS, FBI Warn of COVID-19 Scams

  • Tax strategies
  • 4/13/2020
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Coronavirus-related scams and phishing attempts are on the rise. Watch for these red flags and think twice before responding to requests for personal information.

Key insights

  • Bad actors are taking advantage of fear and suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Government agencies have seen a marked increase in coronavirus-related phishing emails and scams.

The more COVID-19 is in the news, the more scammers attempt to prey on people's anxiety to obtain personal and banking information. Know what to watch for and stay alert for these ploys.

IRS warns taxpayers of increasing threats

The IRS is warning taxpayers not to fall victim to coronavirus-related scams, after seeing an uptick in scams through email, telephone, text messages, websites, and social media. These scams usually involve a request for money or personal information. In one particular scam, the scammers are impersonating the IRS and requesting personal information that they claim is needed to send an economic impact payment or refund faster.

Cybersecurity during COVID-19

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The IRS says retirees are especially at risk. The IRS is sending economic impact payments automatically to retirees, so no additional action or information is needed to receive the payment. Accordingly, the IRS is reminding retirees that no one from the IRS will reach out to them by phone, email, mail, or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment.

Watch for these red flags

The IRS outlines things a scammer may say or do that should raise suspicion:

  • Emphasize the words “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment.” This should raise a red flag, because the official term is economic impact payment.
  • Ask a taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check. No agency will ask a taxpayer to sign over a federal government check.
  • Ask by phone, email, text, or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information, saying the information is needed to receive or accelerate the economic impact payment.
  • Mail a bogus check and then tell the taxpayer to call a number to verify information.

Remember, the IRS does not call taxpayers without prior notice, it does not request debit or credit card information over the phone or via email, and the IRS generally does not send emails or text messages to taxpayers.

FBI also warns of increasing coronavirus-themed scams

Government agencies like the FBI, U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, and attorneys general are warning consumers of a marked increase of coronavirus-related phishing emails and scams. Take a second look at emails related to coronavirus or COVID-19, including those that request information related to the following:

Asking for charitable contributions

  • Don't be pressured into donating.
  • If you want to donate, reach out directly to your favorite charity.
  • The Federal Trade Commission released information to help consumers to avoid charity scams and scammers.

Offers to ensure receipt of government aid

  • Government agencies will never call and ask for your bank account or social security number.

Airline and hotel refunds

  • If you received an email asking you to secure a refund for canceled travel plans, it could be a scam.
  • Reach out directly to the hotel or airline via their website or use trusted contact information to verify.

Cures and vaccines

Home testing kits

  • If you receive emails or phone calls offering at-home testing kits, be wary as the FDA is warning about home testing kit scams.
  • Contact your medical professional if you believe you need to be tested.

How we can help

If you’re unsure of the validity of what seems to be an official communication, please think twice. At CLA, our team continues to watch for emerging threats, and can help you confirm whether a request from the IRS or other government agency is credible. CLA also has cybersecurity professionals dedicated to risk management.

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