COVID-19 Stimulus Payments: Protect Yourself from Scams

From Arthur Bartlett, director of the N.C. Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic:

WARNING: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is warning the public not to fall victim to a COVID-19 scam in which scammers are trying to intercept COVID-19 stimulus payments meant to provide financial support for Americans during the pandemic.

For most people, payments will be made as a direct deposit into their bank accounts, but some will receive a paper check.

Criminals and scammers may try and take advantage of you by having you:

  • Sign over part of or your entire Stimulus Check over to them.
  • “Verify” your filing information in order to receive your stimulus payment.
  • They may also try to obtain and use your personal information, including your Social Security Number, to file a false tax return to claim your stimulus payment.

Please know, the IRS will not call, text, or email you to “verify” your payment details. Do not give out your personal information, like a bank account, debit account or PayPal account information to anyone claiming to be from the IRS.

If you do receive a call, do not engage with the scammers or thieves, just hang up.

If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal information or clicking on links, delete them.

There are companies that are targeting unhoused individuals specifically. We have heard that houseless people have been approached by companies that say they will help someone register for their economic impact payment but take $399 or other amount from the payment. They have the person sign a contract (which you can read on this example company’s website – https://www.docuprepllc.com/) and tell them to come back on a certain date to get the remainder of their payment. You do not have to pay for their EIP and do not need to pay for help accessing it. The only site you should use to claim your stimulus payment is IRS.gov

In addition, if you receive a “check” for an odd amount or a check that requires you to verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s a fraud.

Retirees have been highlighted as a group particularly vulnerable to scams. From the IRS:

“The IRS also reminds retirees who don’t normally have a requirement to file a tax return that no action on their part is needed to receive their $1,200 economic impact payment. Seniors should be especially careful during this period. The IRS reminds retirees – including recipients of Forms SSA-1099 and RRB-1099 − that no one from the agency will be reaching out to them by phone, email, mail or in person asking for any kind of information to complete their economic impact payment, also sometimes referred to as rebates or stimulus payments. The IRS is sending these $1,200 payments automatically to retirees – no additional action or information is needed on their part to receive this.”

Read more about the warning issued by the IRS

Additionally, economic impact payments belong to the recipient, not nursing home or care facilities: “The payments are intended for the recipients, even if a nursing home or other facility or provider receives the person’s payment, either directly or indirectly by direct deposit or check. these payments do not count as a resource for purposes of determining eligibility for Medicaid and other federal programs for a period of 12 months from receipt. They also do not count as income in determining eligibility for these programs.”

We’re here to help: If you have any questions, please reach out to Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s N.C. Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic by calling 704-376-1600 (Mecklenburg County), 800-438-1254 (Outside Mecklenburg County), 800-247-1931 (Linea de Español), or by submitting a contact form.

Protect Yourself This Tax Season

Tax season is also the season for scams targeting taxpayers. Understand the most common scams to protect yourself, your personal information and your finances.

Identity Theft

This occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your Name, Social Security Number (SSN) or other personal identifying information, without your permission. It is often used by scammers to fraudulently file tax returns and claim refunds.

If you file a tax return and then receive a letter from IRS that another tax return was filed using your name, OR if you don’t file a tax return and then receive a letter that a tax return was filed using your name, the false tax filing could be due to identity theft.

Your identity could be stolen, or misused by a former spouse, family member or business partner. 

If you believe that you are at risk of identity theft due to lost, stolen, or misused personal information, contact the North Carolina Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

Phishing

Phishing is usually carried out with unsolicited e-mails or fake websites to steal your personal and financial information. All you must do is click on false links and your personal information could be compromised. 

Keep in mind, the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by e-mail to request personal or financial information. 

Some tax scammers also use snail mail; so be aware, when you receive regular mail that purports to be from the IRS too.  If you are not sure, contact the IRS directly.

Tax Preparer Fraud

Keep in mind, as a taxpayer you are legally responsible for the information you represent on your tax return, even if the tax return is prepared by a third-party professional.

“Free Money” from the IRS

There is NO SUCH THING as “free money” from the IRS. Be skeptical of flyers and advertisements promising you “free money” from the IRS. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Need Help?

Contact the North Carolina Low-Income Tax Clinic.

Check out our other Tax Season Resources:

What to remember this Tax Season

What NOT to do when filing your taxes

Charlotte Tax Preparer Pleads Guilty for Filing False Tax Returns

from WSOC TV:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A Charlotte tax preparer pleaded guilty in federal court Friday for filing false tax returns for her clients and for herself.

Andrivia Wells entered a guilty plea for three out of 35 counts, including aiding and assisting the filing of false tax returns and filing false tax returns for herself. She did not address a charge related to obstructing criminal investigators from the IRS.

From 2011 through 2019, Wells ran Rush Tax Service out of three locations: Beatties Ford Road, Nevin Road and North Tryon Street. Federal prosecutors say Wells prepared more than 6,000 tax returns and received more than $1.2 million in fees from her clients. Oftentimes, the tax fees were taken from the clients’ tax refunds and clients were unaware of how much they were being charged, which was frequently more than $500.

According to the indictment filed in 2019, Wells filed clients’ tax returns with fabricated items, including wages, filing status, American Opportunity Credits, education credits, Schedule C business income and losses and more. The clients did not know what Wells was doing until they were contacted by the IRS with questions about items on their returns.

Shortly after Wells was notified about the investigation, prosecutors allege she set her Beatties Ford Road office location on fire. It was the very same day her summons response was due. The fire destroyed client files, financial records, and computer hardware.

If you’d like to safeguard your filings this tax season and you make less than $56,000 a year, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy attorney Arthur Bartlett said taxpayers should consider going to a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site. There are locations across Mecklenburg County, and it’s sponsored and funded by the IRS.

If you do have to pay someone to file your taxes, Bartlett said to remember this important tip.

“Make sure you know you’ve looked at the return as best you can and you’ve asked questions where it doesn’t make sense because ultimately the IRS is going to hold you responsible, very likely, if the one you looked at and signed is the one that’s filed.”

The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is assisting Wells’ victims. You can reach them at 704-376-1600.

Advocacy Center Assisting Tax Fraud Victims in Local Case

Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is assisting victims in a local tax fraud case after a federal grand jury recently indicted a Charlotte woman on charges of preparing false returns and obstructing a criminal investigation.

Andrivia Wells, also known as Tina Smith, Tina Harris, Andrivia Smith and Andrivia Harris, of Rush Tax Service has been indicted on charges of aiding and assisting in the preparation of fraudulent tax returns for her clients and obstructing the criminal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by destroying records.

The indictment alleges that through Rush Tax Service, Wells prepared, or caused to be prepared, more than 6,000 fraudulent tax returns and Rush Tax Services received more than $1.2 million in fees from her clients between 2013 and 2017.

According to allegations, Wells prepared income tax returns that claimed false filing statuses, false American Opportunity and education credits, false Schedule C businesses, and false fuel tax credits, in order to inflate refunds paid by the IRS.

The indictment further alleges that tax preparation fees were taken directly from the clients’ tax refunds, and in many cases the clients were unaware of how much they were being charged, which was frequently more than $500.

When tax filing fraud occurs, taxpayers are often unaware of a preparer’s actions until the IRS notifies them of a discrepancy in their tax returns.

“Getting a letter from the IRS is especially frightening and confusing for a victim of tax fraud,” said Arthur Bartlett, director and attorney for the Advocacy Center’s North Carolina Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic. “That’s why we’re helping those impacted by this case understand their rights and advocating on their behalf before the IRS.”

According to the IRS, more than half of U.S. taxpayers used a paid tax preparer in the 2016 tax year. The IRS urges taxpayers to be selective when choosing a tax preparer because even if a preparer commits fraud, the taxpayer is ultimately responsible for the accuracy of information on the tax return.

Contact the Advocacy Center by calling 704-376-1600 (Mecklenburg County residents), 800-438-1254 (residents outside Mecklenburg County) if you had your tax returns prepared by Rush Tax Services and you believe that your tax returns were not prepared correctly.

The Advocacy Center’s Tax Clinic may be able to assist you in correcting any errors that were made during the preparation of your tax returns and dealing with any liabilities that result.

The Tax Clinic provides low-income taxpayers with representation in federal and state tax controversies and educates individuals about their rights and responsibilities as U.S. taxpayers.

Resources:
IRS Helpful Hints When Choosing A Tax Preparer
VIDEO: IRS 2019 Dirty Dozen List of Tax Scams
VIDEO: IRS Docena Sucia de 2019