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Fraud Alert: COVID-19 Related Scams

The IRS has reported that the agency has received a record number of complaints about Economic Impact Payment (or stimulus cheque) scams in June and July, 2021. The scams include text messages and phishing schemes, in which fraudsters impersonate government employees via email or text messages. Jim Lee, Chief of IRS Criminal Investigation, has said that the number of reported scams has reached levels the IRS hasn’t seen in over a decade.

The Justice Department has compiled and updated a list of COVID-related frauds. Fraud is being conducted worldwide and encompasses scams related to vaccines, healthcare, PPE, stimulus money and Treasury cheques, and fake charities. If contacted by telephone, text, or email, individuals cautioned against engaging with scammers. Taxpayers are also encouraged to report scams online at TIPS.TIGTA.GOV.

Treasury/IRS and Stimulus-Related Scams

  • Scammers are impersonating Treasury Department or IRS employees via email, telephone, and text message. The Justice Department cautions that the IRS initiates communications exclusively via mail. The scammers may promise help with stimulus payments and ask for personal or banking information. The scammers may provide a website, telephone number, or email address, through which targets are instructed to arrange stimulus payments in exchange for an advance fee. If the target fails to cooperate or questions the transaction, scammers may issue threats of negative consequences.
  • Scammers have set up fake websites and smartphone apps claiming to be from a government office. The websites/apps request personal and banking information, ostensibly process stimulus payments.
  • Scammers may use fake emails from a trusted source, such as a business. Scammers divert payments and steal personal information through claims changes to banking information.
  • Scammers impersonating government employees may claim that the target was given an overpayment of stimulus funds and demanded an overage refund. The payments are demanded via value cards such as iTunes or Google Play or transfers through Western Union and MoneyGram. Targets who question the communication may be threatened with fines, forfeiture, or arrest.
  • Fraudsters have also sent fake Treasury cheques. Like common cheque scams, the recipient of the cheque is told they were sent an overpayment of stimulus funds and asked to return a portion. The Treasury Department has posted guidance on how to recognize a legitimate Treasury Department cheque.

infographic from the IRS outlining how to identify a scam

COVID Vaccine and Testing Scams

  • COVID vaccines scams have been perpetuated to collect personal information such as birth dates and Social Security numbers, Medicare/Medicaid numbers, and private health data. Scammers have also impersonated government employees from Medicare or the Department of Health and Human Services to request Medicare information, sometimes in exchange for a COVID test. The information stolen by scammers can be used to bill federal health care programs or private insurance plans, pocketing the proceeds.
  • Scammers are marketing fake COVID antibody tests, for cash, through websites, social media, email, telephone, and text messages. Scammers are selling fake at-home COVID testing kits and going door-to-door to perform fake tests for a fee. Sometimes scammers have been impersonating government employees, stating the target is required to take the antibody test.
  • Scammers have also been impersonating contact tracers to gain access to targets’ personal and healthcare information. Scammers have been using text messaging to ape contact tracing.

Visit the Justice Department’s Combatting COVID-19 Fraud webpage for a complete list of frauds, advice, and links to additional information.

Featured image background: Unsplash