Residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands should be on alert for a wave of scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the release of Economic Impact Payments, law enforcement officials announced on Tuesday.
The warning was issued by U.S. Attorney Gretchen Shappert and Tyler Hatcher, acting special agent in charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Miami Field Office.
In the last several months, IRS-CI has seen a variety of Economic Impact Payment scams and other financial schemes designed to steal money and personal information from taxpayers, the two said in a news release. Criminals are taking advantage of the second round of Economic Impact Payments – as well as the approaching tax filing season – “to trick honest taxpayers out of their hard-earned money,” the warning said.
“With the roll-out of additional Economic Impact Payments intended to relieve the adverse impact of the coronavirus pandemic, con-artists and scammers are using every opportunity to take advantage of innocent people,” according to the news release. “All Americans should take care to protect their personal information – especially during tax season – and to resist ‘too-good-to-be-true’ claims related to COVID-19 and Economic Payment scams,” Shappert said. “We encourage concerned citizens to contact local or federal law enforcement if they receive emails, text messages or phone calls which seem suspicious. If you see something, say something.”
Hatcher, of the IRS, warned that scammers, con-artists and grifters think those payments are easy pickings.
“Economic relief efforts are meant to assist those in most need who have been affected by the COVID- 19 pandemic. Criminals think these funds are an easy target to take advantage of innocent people. But we have other plans for those who try to prey on the public, and we are committed to hold them accountable for their criminal actions,” Hatcher said. “Report any phone calls, emails or text messages asking for your personal information or offering a deal that seems too good to be true.”
Hatcher and Shappert said common COVID-19 scams include:
– Text messages asking taxpayers to disclose bank account information under the guise of receiving the $1,200 Economic Impact Payments.
– Phishing schemes using email, letters and social media messages with keywords such as “coronavirus,” “COVID-19” and “stimulus” in varying ways. These communications are blasted to large numbers of people and aim to access personally-identifying information and financial account information (including account numbers and passwords).
– The organized and unofficial sale of fake at-home COVID-19 test kits (as well as offers to sell fake cures, vaccines, pills and professional medical advice regarding unproven COVID-19 treatments).
– Fake donation requests for individuals, groups and areas heavily affected by the disease.
– Bogus opportunities to invest in companies developing COVID-19 vaccines while promising that the “company” will dramatically increase in value as a result.
Although criminals are constantly changing their tactics, taxpayers can help protect themselves by acting as the first line of defense, the warning said.
“The best way to avoid falling victim to a scam is knowing how the IRS communicates with taxpayers,” according to the news release. “The IRS does not send unsolicited texts or emails. The IRS does not call people with threats of jail or lawsuits, nor does it demand tax payments on gift cards.”
IRS Criminal Investigations continues investigating hundreds of COVID-19-related cases with law enforcement agencies domestically and abroad and educating taxpayers about scams.
The alert said COVID-19 scams should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or submitted through the NCDF Web Complaint Form. 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 manmade disasters and other emergencies.
Taxpayers also can report fraud or theft of their Economic Impact Payments to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Reports can be made online at TIPS.TIGTA.GOV.
Taxpayers who receive unsolicited emails or social media attempts to gather information that appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS can forward the message to firstname.lastname@example.org. Taxpayers are encouraged not to engage potential scammers online or on the phone.
More information about COVID-19 scams and other financial schemes are online at the IRS website. Official IRS information about COVID-19 and Economic Impact Payments can be found on the Coronavirus Tax Relief page, which is updated frequently.