The IRS this week warned people to be aware of scams tied to federal stimulus checks after the agency’s Criminal Investigation unit received a record number of reports in June and July.
In particular, the IRS is cautioning recipients of COVID-19 relief payments about a recent rise in phishing scams.
“Even though taxpayers have received multiple rounds of Economic Impact Payments, we saw phishing scams surge this summer,” Jim Lee, the head of the IRS’s Criminal Investigation division, said in a news release on Tuesday. “The number of reported scam attempts reached levels we haven’t seen in more than a decade. More than ever, it is important for taxpayers to continue to protect their personal information and not fall victim to these scams.”
The scammers try to trick would-be victims into giving out their personal details or submitting a payment via communications that attempt to mirror legitimate ones from the IRS, including through text message and email, the release stated.
One recent reported scam involves taxpayers being sent texts indicating they qualify for a “stimulus payment,” and that to claim it, they must click on a link and fill out information, according to the IRS.
In another example, scammers sent out phishing emails claiming the IRS had calculated the person’s “fiscal activity” and determined they were eligible for a stimulus check.
The IRS provided these two examples of scams emails and texts:
To help taxpayers avoid falling prey to such scams, the IRS reminds everyone that it doesn’t send out unsolicited text messages or emails. The agency also doesn’t demand taxes be paid through gift cards or cryptocurrency, nor does it utilize threats of jail or lawsuits.
Those who receive an unsolicited text or email that purport to be from the IRS are urged to look out for grammatical, capitalization and spelling errors, which the agency says are indicators of fraud. Additionally, people should be cautious when clicking on shortened links, as those can lead to fake online sites, according to the release.
Anyone who suspects they have received a phishing attempt from an IRS-related correspondence is asked to forward the message to email@example.com.
Individuals who believe they are the victim of fraud or theft as it relates to their economic impact payment should report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, which can be done online at TIPS.TIGTA.GOV.
Scams seeking to bilk unsuspecting taxpayers out of their stimulus checks have been an issue since the IRS began depositing the first of three federal coronavirus relief payments back in April 2020. A report from IBM released that same month found that spam emails tied to the pandemic had increased by 6,000%.
“Many of these emails aimed at stealing the IRS checks,” the report stated.
The last of the three economic impact payments began going out in March as part of the federal $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package, and stimulus checks are still being issued on an ongoing basis, according to the IRS.
More information on the payments can be found on the IRS’s frequently updated Coronavirus Tax Relief page.