If you filed taxes in 2018, you may have already received your COVID-19 (coronavirus) relief stimulus check in your bank account. This is the first check that U.S. citizens have received for COVID-19 relief, and over the next few months, it might not be the last.
With that in mind, let's review the potential of additional stimulus and some tips to avoid fraud during coronavirus.
As Congress continues to send out checks to those patiently waiting from the first round, another stimulus package – entitled “CARES 2” – is reportedly in the works. In addition to direct payments for citizens, it would include additional aid for state and local governments as well as free health care coverage for coronavirus patients.
It’s important in uncertain times like these to ensure that your financial security is top-of-mind. Especially with the recent necessity of online and mobile transactions, we should all remain mindful of best practices to avoid fraud and protect accounts.
With the financial stress and confusion surrounding recent events, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and swept up in a flood of information (and misinformation). Unfortunately, this makes for a rife environment for scammers and fraudsters to take advantage. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported that it received more than 18,000 complaints of fraudulent activity regarding stimulus checks as of April 15.
Some of these scammers may try to take the stimulus checks for themselves, while others may try to gouge their targets for bank account information. Bad cyber actors may try to send emails with malicious attachments -- as well as links to fraudulent websites – to trick victims into revealing sensitive information or donating to fraudulent charities or causes.
Luckily, there are some simple, low-effort steps you can take to help keep your accounts safe.
Avoid Unsolicited Emails and Links
If you receive email, texts, or phone calls from an outside address related to your stimulus payment, be sure to verify that the send address is a real one.
The IRS will not initiate a request for your information — and in fact, only sends its communications via mail — so if you receive a request for this information from any other medium, it’s likely a scam.
“The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information,” reads the agency’s page related to phishing email and other scams. “This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.”
On the agency’s same page, you can also keep updated on various phishing and malware schemes that the IRS has reported. Certainly avoid clicking on links from an email address you don't recognize.
The IRS has also suggested to only submit account information through this portal — not through an email, text, or call.
Another pro-tip: Double-check the language of the messages you receive relating to stimulus payments. The IRS has never used the term “stimulus check” in its communications, but instead its official term, “economic impact payment.” If you receive a message where the term “stimulus check” is used, it may indicate fraud.
Keep Personal and Financial Information Close
In general, it’s good to be wary about who you give your personal and financial information to. It’s also a safe rule-of-thumb to say that you should never provide this information when responding to an email.
As with the IRS, your bank or financial services company will not initiate a call to ask you for personal information unless it’s been requested; so if you get a call from someone digging for that information, verify and verify again until you’re certain it’s a valid source.
Only Use Trusted Website Sources
As we continue to receive bouts of information from various sources, be sure that you’re only using official links when receiving and providing information – such as the CDC, IRS, and World Health Organization (WHO) official websites.
Think You’ve Been Scammed? Tell the FTC
If you receive a suspicious call, email, or text about your stimulus payment, don’t open it. Instead, report the incident to the FTC so that the agency can track the scam and warn others.
The FTC has a complaint page where you can easily report suspicious activity to help others from getting manipulated.
The Importance of Extra Caution Surrounding Fraud
Right now, several pieces of legislation are flying around as Congress members debate the next best steps for helping U.S. citizens affected by COVID-19. While little has been fully finalized yet, many of these proposed plans outline future financial provisions from the government. In the likelihood that the government approves another round of stimulus payments, you can keep some of the above pointers in mind when navigating your inbox or voicemail.
Additionally, as you bank from home or wherever you’re sheltering in place, online and mobile transactions are not only a commonality, but a necessity. All of these various factors reinforce the importance of practicing caution with your financial information. You can easily access Academy Bank’s Online Banking portal here.
Protect yourself by keeping your money close and your information closer, and when in doubt — verify, and verify again.