PORTLAND, Ore — Have you received your coronavirus relief check from the federal government yet?
If so, congratulations! Tens of millions of Americans who individually earn less than $99,000 already received coronavirus stimulus money through direct deposit.
But those not getting their chunk direct deposited by the IRS are still anxiously awaiting relief in the form of physical checks in the mail.
As economic impact payments, aka "stimulus checks," are mailed out to people across the country, scammers are taking advantage of the opportunity to prey.
Not even a pandemic is stopping con artists from trying to steal your money and personal information. In fact, the Better Business Bureau says scammers thrive when people are panicked and exploit vulnerabilities.
"Even though things are already bleak, it's unfortunate there are even worse things we have to watch out for," BBB Northwest + Pacific Oregon State Director Danielle Kane said.
New FTC data shows since Jan. 1, 2020, Americans have lost $13.4 million to COVID-19 scams.
Fake check scams
The BBB and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are trying to get ahead of the scammers trying to cash in on people who are confused over economic relief payments.
The government says Americans who qualify for a direct deposited check will get it this week or in the next few weeks. If you didn't give the IRS your bank information on your return, you won't get the check direct deposited.
If you recently filed a federal income tax return for 2018 or 2019, you don't need to do anything. As people try to navigate how and when they will receive their money, the FTC and BBB warn scammers may start using fake checks that appear official to steal money and lead people to disclose personal information.
"You’re talking about people who are being sent phony checks, they're bringing them to the bank and they’re told that maybe there’s some sort of processing fee that they have to send back in order to collect the money. So they deposit it, send the fee back and then, of course, that check bounces in a couple days and they’re left with less than they had before," Kane said.
Kane says be wary of anyone who says they can help you can get your money earlier or faster, or that you must pay a processing fee associated with the relief check. No one has early access to this money and anyone who claims to is a phony.
Here's what the FTC says you need to know to avoid potential fake check scams:
- Your relief check isn't in the mail yet: For people without direct deposit, checks haven't been sent, and they could take weeks or months to arrive. If you get a check before next week, or you receive a check when you know you should be getting it via direct deposit, it's a scam. It's important to know how - and if - you are going to receive a check.
- The Internal Revenue Service won't send an over-payment and then make you send money back in any way, shape or form: If you receive what appears to be an official check for more than what you're expecting, you can expect a phone call from a scammer telling you to keep the amount you were supposed to receive (up to $1,200) and return the rest to them in cash, gift cards or money transfers.
- The IRS won't call, text or e-mail you: According to the FTC, con artists are even sending postcards out containing a password you can use online to "access" or "verify" your payment or bank account information. Know this: The IRS will not reach out to you and ask for your personal information or bank account information.
"The people who are going online now and are going to be the ones later in the game to receive the money are probably at higher risk because it is not being directly deposited. So what scammers are going to do is just phish for whoever," Kane told KGW. "If you’re still waiting for the money and not sure how you’re getting it you’re more likely to say, 'OK, what do I need to do to get this?'"
The IRS has an online tool you can use to check on the status of your economic impact payment.
Go straight to the source for information and updates on the IRS payments, including eligibility, how to sign up for direct deposit and where to file a short tax form.
Student debt relief scams
The BBB is also warning of people losing money to student debt relief scams, a type of notorious imposter scam.
Scammers are taking advantage of the fact that the federal government isn't making anyone with a federally-backed student loan pay through September due to economic instability and financial troubles amid the novel coronavirus outbreak. (It does not apply to private student loans.)
"Scammers are banking that you don't fully understand the CARES Act and that you are still really panicked amid COVID-19, so they are going to call you just trying to get any type of personal information: your Social Security number, credit card, banking information, or it can just be your mom's maiden name, this kind of data-mining - anything to start building a profile on you," Kane said.
Here's what happens: Someone calls, e-mails, texts or even messages you on social media claiming they are a servicing a loan or pretending to work for the government.
While federal student loan borrowers won't make payments for six months, it's critical you know you're corresponding with an official agency. If you are contacted by someone claiming you need to provide them information so you can stop paying on your loan or you need to provide information to even confirm you have a loan, it's a scam.
The BBB cites new FTC data showing that in Oregon the total number of COVID-19 related complaints is 262. Imposter scams rank second in the Top 5 fraud categories related to the coronavirus.
Report any scams to the BBB or file a complaint with the FTC.