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Stimulus Check Scams: Here's How to Protect Yourself

By Daniel B. Kline – Apr 27, 2020 at 10:47AM

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A lot of bad actors want your government money. Here's what the IRS suggests you do to stop the scammers.

When the government sends the entire population a check, it's inevitable that scam artists will try to get a piece of the action. Bad actors have often used the Internal Revenue Service as a vehicle for their scams, and it makes sense that they would try to trick people out of their stimulus checks.

Needless to say, you don't want to fall victim to one of these scams. That makes it very important to understand how the IRS works and how it will communicate with you about your stimulus check (or anything else).

A silver mailbox on a street.

Any communication from the IRS will come via the mail. Image source: Getty Images.

How to avoid stimulus check scams

Nobody likes getting a letter from the IRS in the mail. The agency rarely delivers good news, although an envelope with the IRS logo in this case could actually be your stimulus payment.

It's important for everyone to remember how the IRS communicates with people. The agency explains on its website how it will contact you when necessary:

The IRS will not call, email, or text you about your Payment. The IRS will not contact you to request personal or bank account information. Watch out for websites and social media attempts that request money or personal information and for schemes tied to Economic Impact Payments.

Basically, all dealings with the IRS happen through the mail. You can call the agency (though that's not a great idea right now as wait times are long), but it will never call you.

The federal agency further detailed its policies in a warning to consumers on stimulus check scams. "We urge people to take extra care during this period. The IRS isn't going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. "That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don't open them or click on attachments or links."

It can be scary to get a phone call or email supposedly from the IRS. Many of these scammers sound very official and warn of dire consequences.

The good news is that while the IRS has the ability to make your life miserable, it generally operates in a very measured fashion. If it needs information from you on your tax return or has questions for you about anything (like your stimulus payment), it will send a letter and give you time -- usually 30 days -- to respond before it takes further steps.

Scammers don't take the same care. They generally demand immediate calls and promise catastrophic results if you don't respond quickly.

"History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need," said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort. "While you are waiting to hear about your economic impact payment, criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on it."

Protect yourself

Understanding how the IRS communicates with Americans should insulate you from the vast majority of coronavirus relief check scams. If you receive any communication that's not in the mail, you know what you're receiving is not legitimate.

"The IRS Criminal Investigation Division is working hard to find these scammers and shut them down, but in the meantime, we ask people to remain vigilant," Fort added.

So, if it doesn't arrive through the postal service, it's a scam. Be patient and be careful. If you're eligible for a check, you will get it (eventually).

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