Skip to main content

Stimulus check scams can steal your money: How to avoid them

Stimulus check
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Now that $600 coronavirus-relief stimulus checks and direct deposits are on their way to American taxpayers, scammers are already trying to steal those stimulus payments and your personal information, the Better Business Bureau reports. 

The BBB warns of email and text messages saying that you need to click a web link to "confirm" or "request" your benefit payments. The link takes to you a page that asks for your sensitive personal information, such as your date of birth and Social Security number

You may also get a phone call asking you to provide your personal details in order to receive your stimulus check. Like the web-based scams, giving up your personal data puts you at grave risk of identity theft.

"Other times, scammers claim that you can get additional money or even receive your funds immediately," the BBB says. "All you need to do is pay a small 'processing fee' through a pre-paid debit card."

How to avoid stimulus-check scams

The BBB say that in order to avoid being scammed by these crooks, you need to:

  • Stay calm. Many scams and cons make it seem like disaster is about to happen and you need to act right away. Don't fall for that — take a deep breath and think about what's really going on.
  • Don't respond directly to these texts, calls and emails and don't click on the links they've provided. If you're concerned about your payment status, use the IRS's handy online tool to check.
  • Be skeptical of bogus-sounding groups and agencies. Do an online search to see if they're real.
  • Don't pay any "fees" to receive government assistance. The U.S. government doesn't charge you for that.

Another big thing to remember: Federal agencies will almost never use emails, texts or phone calls to notify you of bureaucratic problems. The federal government is old-school and prefers to send letters through the mail.

Our friends over at Cnet suggest looking at the IRS's own list of ways to avoid being taken in by stimulus-check scams. In addition to the tips above, the IRS says you should:

  • Be aware that the government doesn't use the terms "stimulus check" or "stimulus payment." If someone uses those terms, they're not from a government agency. The official term is "economic impact payment."
  • Beware anyone who says they can help you get your stimulus payment more quickly. 
  • Watch out for fake stimulus checks that come in the mail, but ask you to call a phone number or go to a website to "verify" personal information before you can cash the check.
  • Be skeptical of anyone who says you should sign over your stimulus check to them, for any reason.

"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," said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig in the IRS advisory. "That also applies 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."

Paul Wagenseil
Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. That's all he's going to tell you unless you meet him in person.