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Scammers Are Coming for Your Stimulus Cash. Here's How to Avoid Them

By Maurie Backman - May 6, 2020 at 6:02AM

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At a time like this, you really can't afford to be a victim.

Millions of Americans are hurting financially because of the COVID-19 crisis and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their stimulus money. As part of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act, Americans whose incomes falls below a certain threshold will receive $1,200 per adult plus an extra $500 per qualifying child under the age of 17. You're entitled to a full stimulus if your income doesn't exceed:

  • $75,000 as a single tax filer
  • $112,500 as a head of household
  • $150,000 as a married couple filing jointly

However, don't assume there's no money coming your way if your income is higher. Once your earnings surpass these thresholds, you lose $5 in stimulus cash per $100 of income, which means there's still plenty of money on the table if you're, say, a single tax filer with an income of $78,000.

That said, the rules surrounding these stimulus payments can be a bit confusing, and the fact that not all Americans have received their money yet means there's plenty of opportunity for criminals to take advantage. Whether you've gotten your stimulus yet or not, the last thing you want to do is fall victim to a financial scam related to that money.

An older woman at her laptop, holding her head and looking worried

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Don't give out your bank account information

The IRS makes it very clear that it will never contact you by phone or email asking for bank account details, so anyone who calls you or emails out of the blue requesting that information to verify where your stimulus should go is apt to be a scammer looking to steal your money. Don't make the mistake of sharing those details.

Keep in mind that you may get a call, email, or even a text message stating the following:

  • An initial attempt to deposit your stimulus money failed, and you need to provide account details at once to correct that error.
  • You may have received your stimulus payment in error, and the IRS will take it back if you don't verify your bank account details.
  • There's a problem with your bank account that's stopping you from getting your money, and you need to resolve it before that payment can go through.
  • You may be entitled to extra stimulus money, but you need to act quickly and provide key information to get it.

Keep in mind that in addition to requesting bank account information, you'll often be asked to provide your Social Security number. Again, keep that information under wraps, or a scammer use could it to do more than just steal your stimulus money; a criminal could steal your entire identity, which is a miserable thing to have happen under the best of circumstances, and an extremely dangerous thing to have happen during a national crisis.

Another thing: The IRS is very old-fashioned in the way it communicates with tax filers. The only way the agency will reach out to you is through an official letter in the mail. That said, sometimes even official-looking mail can be a scam, so if you're sent a notice that appears to be from the IRS that asks you to send back your stimulus payment or otherwise face legal action, don't buy into it.

Finally, keep in mind that the IRS may ask you to verify your identity for stimulus purposes. If that request comes in, it will be by mail, and you'll also be directed to the agency's secure Identity Verification Service. There should also be a toll-free number on the letter you receive giving you the option to call instead.

Don't be a victim

At a time when you may be struggling financially, the last thing you need is to fall victim to a scam that robs of you the money you need to stay afloat. Know what today's stimulus scams might look like, and do your best to avoid them. And if you have elderly family members or neighbors, warn them, too. Seniors tend to be particularly vulnerable to financial fraud, so if you can spare someone you know that heartache, even better.

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