IRS warns of coronavirus-related scams targeting financial information

IRS warns of coronavirus-related scams targeting financial information
© Greg Nash

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on Thursday warned Americans that scammers and hackers were likely to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis to target financial information.

The agency urged taxpayers to be on the lookout for malicious calls, texts, emails and social media posts that requested financial or other personal information, warning that these scams could lead to identity theft or tax fraud.

IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig emphasized that taxpayers should “take extra care” with their financial information as the coronavirus crisis continues. 

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"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,” Rettig said in a statement. “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." 

In particular, the IRS highlighted a new “wave” of dangerous phishing emails around the coronavirus stimulus checks that the agency is preparing to either directly deposit in bank accounts or mail out over the next several weeks. 

Hackers are zeroing in on retirees for easy targets for these emails, the IRS warned. 

"History has shown that criminals take every opportunity to perpetrate a fraud on unsuspecting victims, especially when a group of people is vulnerable or in a state of need," IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Don Fort said in a statement. "While you are waiting to hear about your economic impact payment, criminals are working hard to trick you into getting their hands on it.”

The agency offered tips around how to spot fraudulent emails or calls, emphasizing that any communication from the IRS will describe the funds as an “economic impact payment,” not a “stimulus check.” The IRS also said it would never ask for verification of banking information in order to send checks. 

The warning from the IRS comes as cyberattacks against health agencies and organizations have increased in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Reuters reported Thursday that Iran-linked hackers had attempted to break into the email accounts of World Health Organization (WHO) staffers through phishing emails. Both WHO and the Department of Health and Human Services have also been targeted by cyberattacks.