Feds See Spike in COVID-19 Payment Scams

The IRS says scammers are trying to cheat people out of stimulus checks. Here’s how you can report fraud.

A hand pulls a $20 bill out of a wallet

The Internal Revenue Service says it has seen an uptick in scams to cheat people out of their Economic Impact Payment checks. Congress and President Donald Trump approved the cash payments to help most Americans weather the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The IRS will not call, email or send a text message looking for your information.” — Sarah Kull, IRS criminal investigator

The IRS Criminal Investigation division says criminals will try to steal personal information such as Social Security numbers. 

Click on the player to hear Sarah Kull’s conversation with WDET’s Pat Batcheller.

Sarah Kull is the special agent in charge of the IRS-CI office in Detroit. She says a common trick is to contact potential victims by text or email, posing as government agents.

Internal Revenue Service
Internal Revenue Service

“The messages look like they’re coming from the IRS,” she says. “They’ll say that in order to get your EIP, you have to provide them with your account number or your Social Security number.”

Kull says that’s not how it works.

“The IRS will not call, email or send a text message looking for that information,” she says.

Kull says consumers need to be aware of these and other pandemic-related scams.

“We’re seeing scams where [the criminals] are selling fake at-home test kits, cures and vaccines,” she says. The scammers will claim they’re selling a lot of medical supplies online, but when someone orders them and sends the money, the products never arrive. 

The IRS is warning taxpayers of other types of scams. They include fake charities soliciting donations for individuals, groups and areas affected by COVID-19, or offers to invest in companies that claim to be working on a vaccine.

Coronavirus-related scams can be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud by calling 1-866-720-5721 or by clicking here.

Kull says if something sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. She also says consumers who suspect they’re being scammed can search for information about a fishy company online. 

Taxpayers can report theft of their stimulus payments to the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA.

Phishing attempts are also common.

“If you’re getting emails, supposedly from the IRS, trying to get your information, forward that email that directly to us,” Kull says.

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  • Pat Batcheller
    Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician.