During the COVID-19 pandemic, criminals have flagrantly exploited unemployment and relief payments for fraud. Now, the new American Relief Act is expected to be passed this week and will send the next wave of much needed relief checks to Americans. Even before the stimulus package has officially been approved, criminals have already begun campaigns to steal information and money from victims, spread malware that could lead to ransomware, and receive fraudulent payments from government programs. Researchers have seen emails asking citizens to provide information to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in order to receive their stimulus check. The email asks victims to download an Excel spreadsheet that once downloaded, launches Dridex malware. Dridex, which has been around as long as 2015, specializes in stealing a victims banking credentials but has also been used as an all-purpose delivery vehicle for other malware, including ransomware.
The IRS expects the combination of tax season and the passing of the American Relief Act will bring on several new fraud campaigns. Individuals should be wary of any emails, phone calls, or texts claiming to be from the IRS or any other government agencies. The IRS states that almost all contact will be initiated through the U.S. Postal Service. Callers posing as members of the IRS can be very convincing, if you are suspicious, simply hang up and look up the direct number online. Government agencies very rarely ask for personally identifiable information over the phone, so be skeptical of anyone trying to do so, especially if they have a sense of urgency. Based on the last two stimulus payments, the IRS will automatically issue the payment based on individuals 2019 federal return or 2020 return if it has already been filed. Direct deposit stimulus payments were sent just two days after the approval of the second stimulus check. Three days after approval, the IRS began mailing paper checks.