As the IRS gears up to send coronavirus stimulus payments to millions of Americans, scammers are jumping into action.

The Federal Trade Commission has already received more than 14,000 complaints about COVID-19-related schemes, and the IRS is warning that everyone -- but especially seniors -- needs to be on the lookout for criminals preying on their confusion about economic impact payments. 

Scams can take many forms, from thieves calling or emailing and telling you to provide your bank information to fake checks that purport to be from the IRS. But no matter the form, there are a few key ways to protect yourself from falling victim to a dishonest actor. 

Older woman with arms crossed looking worried.

Image source: Getty Images.

Know how the IRS communicates

The first key thing to understand is that the IRS is not going to call or email you and ask for personal information.

If someone sends you an email or calls your home or cell phone and says they need your Social Security number, bank details, or other personal data in order for you to get your stimulus check, they're almost certainly a scammer, and you shouldn't engage. 

You should also avoid opening email attachments or clicking on website links from unfamiliar or suspicious-looking sources. The attachment could be a virus, and the link could take you to a phishing site set up to look like the real thing but really run by a scammer aiming to get your data. 

Don't be fooled because a phone number comes up on your caller ID identifying the caller as the IRS either. Numbers can be spoofed. If you get a call purporting to be from a government official or your bank, err on the side of caution and hang up. If you think it might have been a legitimate call, you can always look up the telephone number of the institution yourself on their official website and call them back to find out. 

Never pay money to get money and scrutinize paper checks carefully

If the IRS has your direct deposit information, your stimulus money will be put directly into your bank account. If it doesn't have deposit information, you'll get a paper check. 

Unfortunately, scammers have started sending out checks that purport to be IRS stimulus payments but that aren't. Usually, in the mailing, the prospective thief will indicate that a small fee must be paid before the check can be cashed. In other cases, scammers send a fake check that's too large and will immediately send a followup mailing pretending it’s a mistake and ask you to go ahead and deposit the fake check and refund them the difference by direct depositing it into their account immediately. By the time you deposit the fake check and discover it's fake, they'll have already disappeared with your real returned dollars. 

The real check amount is valued at $1,200 for adults, $2,400 for couples, and an additional $500 for each qualifying child dependent. If you get a check for an odd amount, or if you're asked to provide your bank details to cash it, you've probably got a fake one.  

Also, no government agency will ever ask you to pay any money in order to receive your stimulus check. If you're told that you have to provide an upfront payment, put money onto a gift card, provide your bank account details so you can be charged, or return any portion of the money, you're being scammed. 

Don't fall for stimulus check scams

Everyone is vulnerable to scams during these troubled economic times, but seniors especially need to be vigilant given the IRS warning that they may be a likely target.

Be sure to protect your confidential information, and don't give out any money to anyone as you simply don't need to do so in order to receive your coronavirus-related government stimulus check.