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No second stimulus check yet, but the scams are already here

Fear, misinformation and a sense of urgency are behind attempts to steal your first stimulus check -- and a second payment that doesn't yet exist.

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Knowledge is power: The IRS will never call or email you to verify information. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Congress still hasn't struck a deal on the next stimulus package, and won't until some time after Tuesday's election. While that means there's no second stimulus payment yet of $1,200 or otherwise for the IRS to even send, that hasn't stopped a new text scam and others from trying to swindle you out of your money and personal information. Urgent messages about the next batch of stimulus checks are bogus, since this payment doesn't yet exist.

Since March, the Federal Trade Commission has received over 5,000 complaints about text scams that defrauded vulnerable people out of more than $2 million.

Scammers can take advantage of any vulnerability, including a public health crisis and economic insecurity, to lure unsuspecting people into phishing scams and mobile malware traps. Hackers are known to even pose as government officials to present misinformation and trick people into downloading malicious items that put their credentials at risk. 

Here are some tips you can use to guard against scammers grabbing your economic stimulus payment -- and what to do if you think you've been scammed. We've drawn from the IRS website's official guidance on avoiding economic impact payment schemes. This story was recently updated.

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8 stimulus check scams designed to steal your money and data

If you're told by text there's a second check: Individuals have reported getting text messages that say you need to click on a link to accept your stimulus check payment. If you've gotten a text message like this, it's a scam. The text messages say that you've "received a direct deposit of $1,200 from COVID-19 (Treasury) Fund" and will include a phony link to "accept the payment."

If you're asked to verify or provide financial information by phone, email or text to speed up the delivery of your payment. The IRS won't call or email you to verify your information, according to IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. Only use this IRS web page to submit information to the IRS.

If the person you're talking to via text or email uses language other than "economic impact payment." The IRS said that the official term is "economic impact payment," and scammers will likely say "stimulus check" or "stimulus payment" instead. 

If you're a retiree who doesn't normally file a tax return and someone offers to submit information for you or claims you must verify information before getting your check. The IRS says no action is needed on the part of retirees to receive a stimulus check if they don't normally file a tax return.

If you get a bogus check in the mail. If the check is for an odd amount -- specifically including cents -- asking you to call a number or verify information online in order to cash it, the IRS says this is a scam. The IRS said it will first deposit the payment directly into your account and then mail you a check if that's not possible. For the first round of stimulus checks, you didn't need to fill out an application or contact the IRS in any way.

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Knowing the common stimulus check scams will help you avoid them.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If someone says they can get you your payment faster. Anyone who asks to work on your behalf promising that they can get you money faster -- in person or online -- is a scam. In addition, the IRS says you also shouldn't be asked to sign your check over to anyone else. 

Email attachments that promise special information about payments or refunds. Again, the IRS will not contact you by email or text message and links within these messages could be dangerous malware or phishing scams. 

If you're told you have to pay to get your check. The IRS won't ask you to deposit your check and then send them money. The IRS says that economic impact payments will be deposited directly into the same banking account reflected on the most recent tax return that you filed for either 2018 or 2019. If the IRS does not have a taxpayer's direct deposit information, a check will be mailed to the last known address on file.

Think you've been scammed? Here's what you should do

If -- before or after a deal on the HEALS Act is reached -- you think your personal information might've been compromised, the IRS suggests you go to IdentityTheft.gov. The site lets you report identity theft to the IRS and FTC simultaneously and develop a recovery plan. 

After checks are in the mail, you can check out the IRS' Get My Payment page to keep track of your second stimulus check. Just tap the blue Get My Payment button to check the status of your economic impact payment.

For more resources, check out coronavirus hardship loans and unemployment insurance, what you can do if you've lost your job, what to know about evictions and late car payments, if you could receive two refund checks from the IRS and how to take control of your budget.