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Avoiding Scams During A Pandemic

“Crime doesn’t pay” is a phrase that easily generates debate.  What is largely uncontested, however, is the notion that crime never ends.

Even during a time of national unity and common purpose, it is a regrettable reality that some will seek to enrich themselves by exploiting vulnerability, confusion and fear.  While our communities strive to flatten the curve of COVID-19, it’s critical that individuals also stay ahead of another curve; the inevitable fraud that surfaces during a public effort to lessen the painful effects of an economic crisis.

The federal government is preparing to send economic impact payments of varying amounts to most American residents within the next few weeks.  Eligibility, as described by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is as follows;

“Tax filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns will receive the full payment. For filers with income above those amounts, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the $75,000/$150,000 thresholds. Single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible. Social Security recipients and railroad retirees who are otherwise not required to file a tax return are also eligible and will not be required to file a return.”

Eligible taxpayers who filed tax returns for either 2018 or 2019 will automatically receive an economic impact payment of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for married couples and up to $500 for each qualifying child.  For those with a tax filing obligation who did not file federal tax returns in either 2018 or 2019, the IRS encourages the filing of a 2018 or 2019 tax return as soon as possible.

Designed to offset the effects of unemployment and other economic challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, these economic impact payments will be delivered via direct deposit or by regular check to the mailing address on file.  If you are unsure as to whether the Internal Revenue Service has your direct deposit details, an official Treasury Department site that allows users to update their banking details is set to be introduced in mid-April.  If the IRS is unable to deposit your economic impact payment directly into your account, a check will be sent in the mail.  If you have recently moved and need to arrange a mailing address redirect to ensure delivery to your current address, you may do so via the official USPS site here.

Accompanying this assistance, unfortunately, will be scams designed to fraudulently separate Americans from this much-needed help and their existing financial assets.  Some common fraud involves the following methods;

Fraudulent Calls, Email And Social Media

Requests for personal and confidential information over-the-phone, via social media and email (sometimes referred to as ‘phishing’) should immediately generate red flags.  Remember, the IRS and financial institutions will never solicit confidential information via either of these methods.

Ignore phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize, hang up if asked for personal or confidential information and ignore emails that request login or other sensitive information.  If you are unsure whether an email from your recognized financial institution is genuine, avoid clicking on links in the email and instead head to the site by entering the website address directly in your web browser.

For information on how you may report a suspected case of phishing to the IRS, click here.

Bank Loan, Credit Card And Other Financial Assistance Scams

Headlines related to various bailout offers for struggling businesses and individuals often inspire a number of scams involving offers of low or zero interest credit, loans or even grants.  As discussed, do not disclose confidential information in a phone call or email.  Be sure to scrutinize all details of any physical mail offer carefully before responding and ignore bogus “stimulus” checks that require the recipient to call or verify information online in order to be cashed.  Ignore offers of assistance to act on your behalf to receive a faster economic impact payment from the IRS.

In general, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.  If you are currently seeking information on what financial assistance is available to you during this difficult time, consider contacting your financial institution directly and ask to speak with a qualified specialist.

Recognizing that crime never takes a vacation is an unfortunate but necessary part of defending ourselves and our communities against fraud.  In times of great stress, predatory practices and con-artists seek to exploit the hope of those most in need of help.  Practicing common sense and accessing legitimate resources for financial relief are some of the most important weapons against becoming the next victim of financial fraud.

If you have questions about fraud or would like to discuss your current financial needs and options that may be available to you, please reach out to us at 505-455-5228 or via email at [email protected].