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Scammers set to capitalize on stimulus check confusion

FTC: $5 Million lost in COVID-19 scams so far
Posted at 4:07 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 16:40:43-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — There are still many questions and even some confusion when it comes to the COVID-19 stimulus checks that should be headed our way in a few weeks. News5 has an important warning about how scammers are looking to use that confusion to steal from people who are anxious to get the check.

It will still be a few weeks before the IRS begins to distribute COVID-19 Economic Impact Payments. if you have tax returns directly deposited into your bank account this money will come the same way, but some people including many of our seniors will receive paper checks in the mail. No matter how you get this money it's important to know how scammers will try to take it from you.

Coronavirus scam warnings have been getting a lot of the headlines, but financial fraud experts like Kim Cobb say people continue to make mistakes and it's making the crooks rich.

"These fraudsters are looking for a way to grow their business. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them and they are kicking it into high gear," said Cobb.

The Federal Trade Commission released numbers this week saying it has received more than 7,000 COVID-19 scam related complaints and people have lost more than $5 Million to scammers.

Unfortunately, Cobb fears the dollar losses could be even greater in the weeks to come as criminals try to capitalize on the confusion over stimulus checks.

"They will not call you. So if you get a call it is a scammer. What these guys will do is they will obtain that data and you may not know you've been compromised for weeks or months later because they package this stuff up and sell it on the dark web," said Cobb.

Here is some advice from the Federal Trade Commission when it comes to handling your "Stimulus Checks":

1. You don't need to do anything. As long as you filed taxes for 2018 and/or 2019, the federal government likely has the information it needs to send you your money. Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are otherwise not required to file a tax return also do not need to do anything to receive their money. If you otherwise have not filed taxes recently, you may need to submit a simple tax return to get your check.

2. Do not give anyone your personal information to "sign-up" for your relief check. There is nothing to sign up for. Anyone calling to ask for your personal information, like your Social Security number, PayPal account, or bank information is a scammer, plain and simple. Also be on the lookout for email phishing scams, where scammers pretend to be from the government and ask for your information as part of the "sign-up" process for the checks.

3. To set up direct deposit of your check, communicate only with the IRS at irs.gov/coronavirus. And you only need to do this if you didn't give the IRS your bank information on your 2018 or 2019 return. In the coming weeks, the IRS will be setting up an online form available through irs.gov/coronavirus. But nowhere else, and never in response to an email, text, or call.

4. No one has early access to this money. Anyone that claims to is a scammer. The timeline for this process is not exact, but it looks like funds will start going out in the next few weeks. Scammers are using the lack of detail to try to trick people into giving their personal information and money.

The FBI is also warning about fraudulent text messages posing as retailers like Costco promising stimulus deals, but really just sending you a dangerous link.

"It is going to take some patience and some courage especially if you are in a tight situation, but if you get scammed it is only going to compound the situation it is not going to make it any better," said Cobb.

Remember, it will still be a few weeks before these stimulus checks will go out. If you get a check in the mail now it is likely fraud. Also, if you get a check for an odd amount of money, or it requires you to verify the check by calling a number or going online, that's also a sign of fraud.

For any questions you might have you can find verified IRS resources here: https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know