Treat the phone like a Mafia boss and other tips for avoiding coronavirus stimulus scams

Tribune Content Agency

Money will soon be sent to the masses as part of the coronavirus pandemic economic relief package. That brings out the scammers like dark and damp brings out the roaches.

So fraud warnings have been issued by local, state and federal agencies.

“We urge people to take extra care during this period. The IRS isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “That also applies to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. Remember, don’t open them or click on attachments or links. Go to for the most up-to-date information.”

But here are three basic tips to help young, old and middle-aged:

— Don’t trust the phone. As stated in the book “Wiseguy” and its movie adaption “GoodFellas,” neighborhood boss Paulie wouldn’t even have a phone in his house. And, in the movie, one gangster says to a longtime partner who has just been busted via wiretaps, “I’ve been telling you your whole life not to talk on the phone. Now, you understand?”

That’s about how you should feel about any phone call about your stimulus money. Don’t give any information. Better yet, don’t talk. It’s likely a scam.

“If you receive a call, don’t engage with scammers or thieves,” warns the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office.

Because nobody is calling you about anything. The IRS isn’t calling about your bank account number, debit card number or PIN. The IRS isn’t calling you about applying the stimulus check to money you owe. In fact, if they use the term “stimulus check,” hang up right then. The official term is “economic impact payment.”

Your bank isn’t calling you about the check, either.

Also, while your bank might call about fraudulent activity on your credit or debit card, they will not be coming to your home to replace that card. The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office recently said this scam has been revived.

“During the course of these telephone conversations, the representative/suspect acquire the victim’s PIN number(s) for the card(s) then advise that an unidentified representative will travel to their residence(s) and take the card from their possession,” PBSO said. “Shortly thereafter, fraudulent charges are found to be applied to the victim’s account.”

PBSO said someone is calling around, claiming he can help with rent payments and asking for personal information. Don’t fall for that. That person’s looking to steal money or your identity or both.

— That email or text messages purporting to be from the government or your bank? No.Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, none of them are emailing you about your stimulus check. Nor are they sending you a text message asking you to click on something to address a fraudulent transaction. That’s the setup for a fraudulent transaction.

Electronic flim-flammers also use emails that look as if they’re from a government agency. The emails ask for personal identifying information or ask you to click on a link.

Just as with the phone, don’t give up personal information in an email. And the websites to which those links lead?

“The sites ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information, which could be used to help file false tax returns,” the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office warns. “The sites also may carry malware, which can infect people’s computers and allow criminals to access your files or track your keystrokes to gain information.”

Again, the IRS isn’t emailing you.

— The check is going directly into your bank account or it’ll be in the mail in round figures. If you gave the IRS direct deposit information when you filed your taxes, the agency will use that. If you didn’t, the agency will mail your check to the address it has for you.

“The IRS also reminds retirees who don’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return that no action on their part is needed to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment. Seniors should be especially careful during this period,” the agency said. “The IRS is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to retirees — no additional action or information is needed on their part to receive this.”

So, one more time: The IRS is not calling you about this, emailing you about this, even mailing you about this or knocking on your door to talk about this.

Nothing has been sent yet and won’t be for a few weeks, the Monroe County SAO warns. So, if you get a check in the mail soon, it’s fake. Other hints: It’s for an amount that isn’t nice and round (like “$1,200”) or there’s a notation asking you to verify the check by going online or calling a number.

That means the check is fraudulent. This is a check from the government, not a new credit card


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