Tax filing season — delayed deadlines or not — is a good time for scammers to ply their dirty tricks to steal taxpayers’ identities and money. The coronavirus outbreak has provided them a huge further incentive.

The Internal Revenue Service and its Criminal Investigation Division last week reported a surge of calls and email phishing about COVID-19 against taxpayers. These contacts, the agency said, can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.

“We urge people to take extra care during this period,” IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said in a statement. “The IRS isn’t going to call you asking to verify or provide your financial information so you can get an economic impact payment or your refund faster.”

Rettig said this also applied to surprise emails that appear to be coming from the IRS. “Remember, don’t open them or click on attachments or links. Go to IRS.gov for the most up-to-date information.”

Taxpayers should watch not only for emails but also for text messages, websites and social media attempts that request money or personal information.

“History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need,” the IRS criminal investigation chief Don Fort said in the statement.

“While you are waiting to hear about your economic impact payment, criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on it.”

The IRS said that in most cases, it will deposit economic impact payments into the direct deposit account taxpayers previously provided on tax returns. Taxpayers who have previously filed but not provided direct deposit information to the IRS will be able to do so on a newly designed secure portal on IRS.gov in mid-April.

If the IRS does not have a taxpayer’s direct deposit information, it will mail a check to the address on file. Taxpayers should not provide their direct deposit or other banking information for others to input on their behalf into the secure portal, the agency said.

Retirees

The IRS said retirees who normally are not required to file a tax return need take no action in order to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment, but should be especially careful during this period.

The IRS made a special point to remind retirees — including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 — that no one from the agency will contact them by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment, also sometimes referred to as rebates or stimulus payments.

The IRS is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to Social Security recipients who do not file tax returns.

Here are several ways the IRS said scammers may try to trick seniors and other taxpayers out of their economic impact payment:

  • Emphasize the words “Stimulus Check” or “Stimulus Payment.” The IRS said the official term is “economic impact payment.”
  • Ask the taxpayer to sign over the economic impact payment check to them.
  • Ask by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information saying this 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 — a scam that may 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.

The IRS said anyone who receives unsolicited emails, text messages or social media attempts to gather information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, should forward it to phishing@irs.gov.

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