Avoiding Economic Impact Payment check scams

The coronavirus has led to a pretty enormous piece of legislation being passed by the federal government. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a $2.2 trillion package that includes, among other things, direct payments to taxpayers, intended to blunt the impact of the severe, widespread economic fallout caused by the pandemic.

At some point in the near future, qualifying individuals will receive a payment. Those who received their tax refund electronically will probably have the payment directly deposited, while others will receive a check in the mail. (I think they are working on setting up a portal so that people who did not provide direct deposit information for 2019 taxes can set it up in lieu of a paper check, but I don’t know all the details.)

This presents a massive opportunity for scammers. Here are some things you need to know.

The government officially refers to these payments as “Economic Impact Payments.” They are NOT calling it a “stimulus check” or a “stimulus payment.”

If you qualify, you will simply receive it. The direct deposit will show up in your account, or you will get a paper check in the mail. Other than depositing or cashing the paper check, that is where it ends. There will be no additional steps to verify that you received it. If you recall the 2008 stimulus package, it will work a lot like that.

If you get the payment, it’s because you qualify, and the government already has correct personal information for you. You will NOT be asked to call a phone number back to verify anything. Or email, or text.

You will NOT receive emails or text messages about the payments.

Nobody will be going door-to-door handing out the checks or anything else, or asking you to sign anything or provide personal information.

I cannot find a straight answer at the moment as to whether or not the payments will be counted as taxable income for 2020 (every website I checked, including the IRS, only talks about “who is eligible?”); however, I can tell you this with confidence: you will NOT be asked to send money right away to cover taxes. Not by wire transfer, not by purchasing prepaid cards or reloadable gift cards, PayPal, Venmo, or any other method. Any caller who says otherwise (I am predicting this will be a big telephone-based scam) is not telling the truth.

Basically, for the vast majority of people who pay taxes, getting your payment will involve doing nothing more than waiting for it to arrive. Any instructions outside of that are highly suspect.