Coronavirus • April 15th, 2020

How to avoid 2020 government stimulus scams

Adam Cecil

Key Takeaways
  • Scammers will attempt to trick and threaten you into giving up your personal data.
  • When in doubt, always be skeptical and double-check URLs and phone numbers.
  • Sign up for scam alerts from the FTC and stay up-to-date.

It’s an unfortunate truth that even in a time of crisis, there will be someone out there trying to make a buck by tricking and exploiting people. Older Americans – retirees, especially – are frequently the target of scams, but everyone, no matter how old they are, is at risk of being taken advantage of.

As the government is working to get stimulus checks to millions of Americans, scammers are using it as a way to steal personal data like Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, and more. In this article, we’ll run through some of the specific scams around the 2020 stimulus checks, including the real details on how to get your check if you did not file taxes in 2019 or 2018, as well as common scam tactics and how to avoid them for future reference.

How to (actually) get your 2020 stimulus

The good news is that if you filed taxes for 2019 or 2018 and gave the government your bank account information for a direct deposit, you will not need to take any additional action in order to receive your stimulus check. You’ll also automatically receive the payment if you receive Social Security retirement benefits, SSDI, survivor benefits, or Railroad Retirement benefits.

The bad news is that if you don’t fall into those categories and you’re trying to figure out how to get your payment, you’ll likely find a few scammers feeding you misinformation in an attempt to steal your Social Security number and your bank account information. Scammers might be posing as IRS agents or bank representatives and send you to bogus websites where they can steal your information.

When in doubt, go directly to the source – the IRS. There are a few ways you can get your 2020 stimulus if you haven’t filed your taxes for 2018 or 2019 yet. First, you could file your taxes – even if you don’t have to file your taxes, you still can. Folks who don’t have to file can also register for their benefits on the IRS website. Some third-party tax service providers, such as TurboTax, can also submit this information to the IRS for you. If you filed your taxes but didn’t provide a bank account or need to update your information with the IRS, use their “Get My Payment” tool.

A scammer might try to send you to a website that looks like the IRS website, but isn’t. Always check the URL (web address) – if the URL reads anything other than IRS.gov, it’s probably a scam. Scammers may also try to contact you via phone, and ask for your information right then and there. The IRS never calls people, so you can rest assured that anyone claiming to be an IRS agent calling you is a scammer.

Common scam tactics and how to avoid them

In general, scammers will try to steal your personal data through a combination of trickery and threats. For example, a scammer might call you pretending to be an IRS agent and threatening to withhold your stimulus check unless you give them your bank account information right then over the phone. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and give someone your information out of fear, which is why it’s so crucial to be on the lookout for possible scams and to stay skeptical.

Scammers might also try to entice you into thinking that you can get your stimulus payment early if you give them your information. This is not possible – no one is getting stimulus money early, and this will continue to be the case if the government takes more stimulus action in the future.

Another common tactic is to trick you into going to a fake website by sending you a “phishing” e-mail or text. This message will have a URL to a fake website that is designed to look like a real website – for example, the IRS site, or your bank’s login screen. Hackers are usually pretty good at making a website look real, so always double-check the URL and make sure there’s nothing fishy about it. When in doubt, try going to the linked website directly to see if the URL matches up.

Same goes for phone scams – if someone calls you claiming to be from your bank, hang up and call the support number listed on your bank’s website or your latest statement. If it really was the bank, no harm done, but if they have no record of trying to contact you, you just dodged a bullet.

Be wary of social engineering scams through Facebook or other social networking sites. Profiles of family and friends may get hacked, and scammers will send you messages as your friend and attempt to extort money out of you. When in doubt, contact your friend through another method to confirm it’s them sending you the messages.

More resources

If you believe you have been the target of a scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file a consumer complaint and report identity theft.

Additionally, the FTC sends out consumer alerts about the latest scam tactics. Sign up for their e-mail newsletter to stay up-to-date on the latest information.

Need retirement help? Talk to a financial advisor at Retirable today.

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Author

Adam Cecil

Writer, video maker, and podcast producer based in Brooklyn. Previously a staff writer at Policygenius, helping people find the insurance coverage they need. Find out more.