HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Dauphin County Commissioners are warning residents to stay alert for scams during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the IRS starts issuing stimulus payments this week, residents should take steps to protect themselves from phishing scams,” said Commissioner Jeff Haste. “Sadly, scammers will try to take advantage of this crisis.”
The stimulus payments, otherwise known as economic impact payments, are being distributed by the federal government as part of the federal economic stimulus legislation that was signed into law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the IRS, in most cases the payments will be directly deposited into the bank accounts that taxpayers previously listed on their federal tax returns.
“The IRS has reported seeing a surge of scam artists perpetrating phishing schemes where they pose as government officials to trick people into turning over their banking information,” said Commissioner Mike Pries. “Doing so may allow a criminal to steal your identity, file a fraudulent tax return in your name or use your personal data for other illicit purposes.”
“We want to remind residents that they shouldn’t provide their direct deposit or other banking information to anyone who contacts them on the phone, through email or text messages, or on social media,” said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “Scammers oftentimes target senior citizens and the vulnerable among us.”
How to Recognize a Scam
According to the IRS, some of the electronic messages associated with these phishing scams say, “In order to receive your stimulus check via direct deposit, you will need to confirm your banking information.” These messages are targeting not only individual citizens, but also tax professionals.
The IRS warns scammers may:
- Emphasize the words “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment.” The official term is economic impact payment.
- Ask the taxpayer to sign over their economic impact payment check to them.
- Ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying that the information is needed to receive or speed up their economic impact payment.
- Suggest that they can get a tax refund or economic impact payment faster by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam could be conducted by social media or even in person.
- Mail the taxpayer a bogus check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it.
Tips to Avoid Scams
Look for imposters: Many times, criminals will pose as a government entity or an official business. If you are targeted by a scam artist through the mail, phone or email, do not provide personal information or money until you are sure you are speaking to a legitimate representative.
Approach unusual attachments and links with caution: Links to a website or attachments to an email could be infected with malware that download malicious software. Spyware can track the recipient’s keystrokes to obtain passwords, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or other sensitive information.
Conduct research online: Using information included in a potentially fraudulent notice or communication, such as email address domain name, company name, address or telephone number, conduct a search online to see if a scam has been reported by other people or government agencies.
Steps to Follow if You Are a Victim of a Scam
The state Department of Revenue reminds taxpayers that it has a Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit dedicated to assisting victims of identity theft and combating tax refund fraud.
If you are a victim of identity theft or discover a fraudulent Pennsylvania personal income tax return was filed using your identity, please contact the Fraud Detection and Analysis Unit by emailing RA-RVPITFRAUD@pa.gov.
Anyone can contact the Department of Banking and Securities at 1-800-PA-BANKS or 1-800-600-0007 to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies, or products. If you believe you have fallen victim to a scam, contact local law enforcement through a non-emergency number.
To report a case of elder financial abuse, call 866-SAFE-111 (866-723-3111).