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Relief Payment Scams

 The two trillion dollar Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law in March, includes authorization for one-time “Economic Income Payments,” or relief payments, for eligible taxpayers. According to the IRS, eligible individuals with adjusted gross income of up to (1) $75,000 for single filers, (2) $112,500 for head-of-household filers, and (3) $150,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly are eligible for the full $1200 (individual filers) and $2400 (married joint filers).  They are also eligible for an additional $500 per qualifying child. Filers with income above these amounts will have their payments reduced depending upon certain thresholds.

Eligible retirees and recipients of Social Security retirement, survivor or disability benefits (SSDI), Railroad Retirement benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and VA Compensation and Pension (C&P) will also receive a payment.

Single filers with income exceeding $99,000, head-of-household filers with income over $136,500, and joint filers with income over $198,000 and no children are not eligible for payments.

The payments are generally automatic; no action is needed by taxpayers who filed returns in 2018 and 2019 and most seniors and retirees. The IRS sends either a direct deposit payment to the account it has on file or a paper check if they don’t have this info. Those who were not required to file a tax return are still eligible but need to visit the IRS site to provide payment information ( https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payments  ).

The relief payments are good news. The scams that have appeared using relief payments as a pretext are not.

Be wary of these virus-themed identity theft-based scams:

  • A scammer sends you a counterfeit stimulus check, then notifies you that you were overpaid and must repay the overage to the IRS (through contact info the scammer provided). You comply, the check bounces, and you’ve lost the money you paid.

    According to the Consumer Financial Protection Board, indications of fake chec=zks include ones made out to an odd amount (with cents), or that come with a request to call a number to verify information. The Secret Service and Treasury Department have issued guidelines on how to spot counterfeits: https://www.lfg.com/wcs-static/pdf/COVID-19%20-%20secret%20service%20press%20release%20-%20PDF.pdf.

  • An IRS or another government agency impersonator contacts you (by phone, text, email, voicemail) requesting your personal information so they can send your stimulus check, but they just want to steal your personal information to access your bank and other financial accounts. Ignore them! No government agency including the IRS will contact you to verify bank account or other personal info.
  • If you get an unsolicited or threatening check-related call, don’t respond to the caller or provide any information. Instead, if the calls continue, call the police or institution the caller claims to be from. Call directly; don’t use the number the caller provided.
  • If somebody contacts you clai­ming he/she can help you get your stimulus money faster if you pay a “processing fee” (and hand over your personal info in the process), ignore them. Stimulus checks are free, and this is a scam.

To check the status of your payment, visit the IRS site at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment. If you have questions, visit https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/get-my-payment-frequently-asked-questions.

Financial scams take many shapes. Be alert and stay safe.

By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US, CIPP/E

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