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N4T Investigators: Stimulus Scams

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TUCSON (KVOA) - On Tuesday, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) warned Arizona taxpayers about a new wave of COVID-19-related scams related to the second round of Economic Impact Payments. 

The News 4 Tucson Investigators found out how Arizonans are at risk of being scammed and what you can do to keep your money safe. 

According to the IRS, different Economic Impact Payment scams and other financial schemes have been on the rise throughout the last several months. The scams are meant to steal money and personal information from taxpayers.  

The IRS said scammers have been using phishing emails with fake website links that promise COVID-19 relief. All you have to do is give up your money and personal information. 

"The criminals are using it as an opportunity to steal from taxpayers," Brian Watson, special agent and public information officer for the IRS Pheonix Field Office told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. "When the first round of economic impact payments went out in the spring we saw a lot of this fraud so, we expect to see more of the same."

The IRS said criminals have been using the latest economic impact payments to target Arizonans by sending texts messages that ask for bank account information in turn for a stimulus payment; selling fake at-home COVID-19 test kits, cures and vaccines; and even asking for donations to help people suffering from the virus or asking for financial investment into fake companies that claim to be developing COVID-19 vaccines. 

"Scammers learned what worked the first time and they're using it to be more successful the second time around," Watson said.

According to the IRS, criminals have been preparing to take advantage of the second round of Economic Impact Payments, as well as the approaching filing season, to trick honest taxpayers out of their hard-earned money. 

"The number one issue that we see where people get victimized is phishing schemes," Watson said.

Scammers have used phishing schemes through emails, letters, and social media messages to prey on people awaiting COVID-19 related financial help. 

“You have to participate to be a victim. You have to click on that link,” Watson said. “So, we always tell everybody don’t click on a link unless you know absolutely for sure that it's your bank or that it's your friend or that it’s a website that you use regularly. If you are in doubt, delete the email.”  

He also said a lot of the scams have come from overseas but they can also be domestic as well.

"Unfortunately, in the world we live in right now, you have to assume any email you receive could be a fraud," Watson said.

If you believe you may have already clicked on a fake link, monitor your credit and banking information.  

"If you think your information has been compromised such as your social security number, you can contact the IRS and let us know because we don't want someone to file a tax return using your information," Watson said.

You can report COVID-19 related scams to the National Center For Disaster Fraud by clicking here or by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721.

The NCDF is a national coordinating agency within the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division dedicated to improving the detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct related to natural and man-made disasters and other emergencies 

You can also report fraud or theft of their Economic Impact Payments to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration by clicking here.  

The IRS said taxpayers who receive unsolicited emails or social media attempts to gather their information that appear to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, should forward the message to phishing@irs.gov

The IRS said it will not send unsolicited texts or emails and does not call people with threats of jail or lawsuits, nor does it demand tax payments on gift cards. Do not engage potential scammers online or on the phone.  

To learn more about COVID-19 scams and other financial schemes visit IRS.gov. Official IRS information about COVID-19 and Economic Impact Payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page here

Alexis Berdine

Alexis Berdine is an Investigative Multi-Media Journalist at KVOA.

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