How will I know my stimulus payment is real and not a scam?
Most people who get a stimulus check will have it automatically direct deposited into their bank account by the IRS within weeks. But some scammers may use official-looking fake checks to steal money and confuse people into sharing personal information.
Some things to know to avoid fake check scams include:
- The check is not in the mail – yet. Reports say that paper checks – for people without direct deposit – will start arriving in May at the earliest. So, if you get an economic impact payment, stimulus, or relief check before then, or you get a check when you’re expecting a direct deposit, it’s a scam.
- The IRS will not send you an overpayment and make you send the money back in cash, gift cards, or through a money transfer.If you get an official-looking check for more than what you were expecting – say, for $3,000 – the next call you’re likely to get is from a scammer. They’ll tell you to keep your $1,200 payment, and return the rest by sending cash, gift cards, or money transfers. It’s a scam that will leave you owing money to your bank.
- That’s not the IRS calling, texting, or emailing. Scammers are sending official-looking messages – including postcards with a password to be used online to “access” or “verify” your payment or direct deposit information. The IRS will not contact you to collect your personal information or bank account. It’s a scam.
More information from the Federal Trade Commission can be found at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/04/coronavirus-checks-flattening-scam-curve.
If you think something is suspicious, you can report the activity to the FTC here.
If I owe my bank for overdraft fees, can the bank take my stimulus check money to pay that fee?
Yes. Banks have the right to “offset” any deposits to pay off delinquent loans, overdraft fees, or other charges. Banks have immediate access to the stimulus checks when they are direct deposited into accounts for their customers. In addition, banks can repay debts owed to them ahead of other private debt collectors having access to the money in the account. Some banks are choosing to pause their collections on negative account balances and overdraft fees to give customers access to the full stimulus money deposited into their account, but many others are not. If you think you might owe your bank money, you should call your bank to ask how they are handling this situation.
A creditor has a judgment against me. Can it attach my bank account to take my stimulus check?
Probably yes. While the stimulus checks cannot be garnished/attached for debts owed to federal or state governments, the law does not stop private debt collectors from seizing the money through a bank account attachment. On April 13, 2020, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost issued a notice which said that the stimulus checks should be protected from any sort of attachment or garnishment by someone who has a judgment against you (also known as a “judgment creditor”). This means that the judgment creditor should not be able to take the money from your stimulus check. However, AG Yost’s notice does not prevent a Court from granting a request from a judgment creditor to garnish or attach your bank account.
If a judgment creditor may be able to take my stimulus check, how can I protect the money that I receive?
Your safest bet is to withdraw the money you receive from your stimulus check as soon as it hits your bank account. You should either take the money out as cash or spend the money using a debit card to pay for necessary goods or services (i.e. groceries). Judgment creditors are more likely to focus on larger bank, so you may be more protected if you bank with a smaller local bank or use a prepaid card for your banking.
My stimulus check was taken by a judgment creditor or by my bank. What do I do now?
Contact Legal Aid’s intake department (https://lasclev.org/contact/). Depending on the facts of your situation, there may be claims that an attorney can make against the judgment creditor or bank for unfair or improper debt collection.
Where Can I Get Reliable Information about COVID-19 scams?
For up to date information about scams related to COVID-19, visit the Federal Trade Commission, The Office of the Ohio Attorney General or the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. For free virtual tax preparation services through the Cuyahoga Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition, email firstname.lastname@example.org with a name, phone number and what assistance is needed.