Smart Tax Planning

Here's how far hackers are willing to go to steal your stimulus check

Key Points
  • During the first quarter, data security company Bolster found more than 145,000 suspicious domain registrations with the term “stimulus check” in them.  
  • Scammers also created more than 60,000 phony banking sites during the first three months of the year.
  • Thieves also took aim at desperate entrepreneurs. The number of websites purporting to offer small-business loans jumped to 628 in March, from 273 in February, Bolster found.
Maskot

For scammers, it's open season on your stimulus checks.

Bolster, a fraud prevention company, turned up more than 145,000 suspicious domain registrations with the term "stimulus check," according to the firm's first-quarter analysis of phishing and online fraud.

The federal government has issued 159 million so-called Economic Impact Payments to individuals, totaling close to $267 billion, since the program opened in mid-April, according to June 3 data from the Treasury Department and the IRS.

Based on their adjusted gross income for either 2018 or 2019, individuals taxpayers are eligible for up to $1,200, while married couples who file jointly may receive up to $2,400. Households are also eligible for up to $500 per qualifying child under age 17.

Rip-off artists tend to follow the money – and the news.

Consider that back in January, some 3,142 phishing and counterfeit pages went live every day, Bolster found. That number went to 8,342 phony sites going live each day in March.

March 19 – when the world was well into a panic over coronavirus – was an especially busy day. More than 25,000 phony pages went live that day, the firm found.

"There are a bunch of suspicious domains around stimulus checks," said Jason Alafgani, director of marketing at Bolster. These phony sites purport to help people get a hold of the funding they're owed by the federal government, and individuals may unwittingly plug in their personal details.

 The photo below is an example of a suspicious website, according to Bolster's research.

Here's an example of how sleek some of these suspicious sites can be.
Bolster, Bolster.ai

Seizing on panicky entrepreneurs

Small-business owners have been nervous about their ability to survive lockdown orders and they've been trying to learn more about government programs that can help them, including the Paycheck Protection Program.

Thieves built phony banking sites to fool entrepreneurs into turning over their personal data.

Scammers created 60,707 phony banking sites during the first quarter, and the number of sites that purported to offer small-business loans jumped to 628 in March from 273 in February, Bolster found.

The fake sites are high-end and can be hard to distinguish from the real thing. The image below is a screenshot of a scammy web page that's impersonating Wells Fargo, according to Bolster.

This screenshot of a phony bank site can be a dead-ringer for the real thing.
Bolster, Bolster.ai

"The vast majority of these are straight-up counterfeiting banks' websites," said Alafgani. "They want your info and they resell it or the individual scammer might take your credentials and access your bank account."

Here are three suggestions to help you protect your data as you learn more about federal relief programs.

• Check the URL. Bad actors dress up their URLs to dupe customers. "The address might contain 'Chase' or 'Chase authorized,' and it sounds like it could be normal," said Alafgani.

More from Smart Tax Planning:
Thinking of being your own boss? What it means for taxes
Here are key tax issues if you want to work from home for good
Employers who took PPP may have to report workers to unemployment

Never click on links in email solicitations. Punch in your bank's web address and go there directly.

• Stay on your guard. Fake websites often have sleek graphics and art and they can look very much like the real thing. "This isn't going to be some grainy website, Alafgani said. "It's going to be similar to what you expect to see."

• Go straight to Uncle Sam. The IRS will never call, email, text or leave you threatening voicemail messages about your stimulus payments. Go directly to the taxman's site, IRS.gov, if you have questions about the payment program.

VIDEO4:1604:16
How scammers are targeting your stimulus checks