Paper check fraud to look out for

How to spot common scams, and what you can do if it happens to you.

Any time of uncertainty is an opportunity for crime, as scammers can take advantage of the confusion to trick people out of their money, their sensitive information or both. 

The arrival of the coronavirus is no different. The IRS has issued scam warnings. And the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has received tens of thousands of complaints about COVID-19 fraud, with consumer losses in the tens of millions. 

Fraud and your stimulus check

The coronavirus relief package that was signed into law in March allowed the federal government to provide economic impact payments to millions of eligible U.S. citizens and U.S. resident aliens. The payments, or “stimulus checks,” are meant to help aid those impacted by the coronavirus. But they have also caused concern about check-related fraud

So, how do you make sure your stimulus payment is safe?

First, you can find out the status of your payment through the IRS’s Get My Payment app. 

If you’re expecting a paper check, here’s a guide to some of the scams to look out for and what you can do to avoid them. Keep in mind that while this guide is specific to stimulus checks, it could help you detect check fraud at any time.

Avoiding fraud before you receive your check

There are a number of different methods criminals use to get their hands on other people’s personal information or money. Here are a few that are especially relevant to the stimulus payment:


Some scammers are posing as the IRS via email, phone or text. Pretending to be a trusted authority with the intention of stealing information is known as phishing. When it comes to your stimulus payment, you might be asked to:

  • Verify your banking or personal information so that you can get a larger or faster payment
  • Send money or personal information to “release” your stimulus check

Remember, the IRS would never initiate contact to ask for money or for personal or bank details by phone, email, text message or social media. 

Contact your bank immediately if you suspect you’ve been impacted by phishing. Capital One customers concerned about their account should contact customer support directly.

Identity theft

If you’re receiving a paper check, it’s likely because the IRS doesn’t have your bank information on file. A scammer could beat you to your own check by pretending to be you on the Get My Payment app and adding their bank information instead. 

This is an example of identity theft. Your identifying information could have been stolen recently or a while back, or it could have been newly purchased on the dark web.

Use the Get My Payment app or the IRS’s tool for people who didn’t file 2018 or 2019 taxes to confirm that the correct bank details are on file for you. If you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, report it to the IRS.

Mailbox theft

Don’t underestimate old-fashioned mailbox theft, either. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service recommends you check your mailbox regularly. You can also sign up for its Informed Delivery service, which gives a heads-up about what’s coming in the mail that day. That way, you can be ready to collect your check as soon as it arrives.

Avoiding fraud after you receive your check

Once the stimulus check envelope arrives, it’s important to make sure your Treasury check isn’t a fake. 

A counterfeit check in the incorrect amount might be followed by a message saying you were overpaid and need to send some or all of the money back. Or your check might come with a request to hand over personal information in order to cash it. 

Here are four things to look out for:

  • The date. The IRS began mailing checks in late April. If you received one dated before then, it might be a counterfeit. 
  • The features. Your stimulus check comes with a number of security features to help you make sure it’s official, including a watermark, the Treasury Seal and ultraviolet overprinting. A PDF from the Treasury lets you explore these features up close.
  • The amount. If it’s not what you are expecting, it might be a counterfeit. 
  • The source. Test your check’s authenticity by running it through the U.S. Treasury’s online check verification service.

If you’re still wondering whether your check is the real deal, you’ll get final confirmation when the IRS follows up with a letter about 15 days later.

Finally, watch out for people offering to buy your check. Even if you’ve already deposited it, giving the paper to someone else could be giving them your money.

How to report paper check fraud

You may have received your check already. But if you’re still waiting and are worried, the IRS’s Get My Payment app is the best way to see the status of your payment.

If you fall victim to a scam or believe you may have received a fake check, report the incident to the Treasury Department and the IRS. If you unknowingly provided personal or bank information to a fraudster, you should also notify your bank once you realize the mistake.

Fraud is constantly evolving, so it’s a good idea to stay up to date about scams connected to the coronavirus. Consider subscribing to the FTC’s dedicated coronavirus e-newsletter. You can also check for updates from the FBI and Department of Justice.

Learn more about Capital One’s response to COVID-19 and resources available to customers. For information about COVID-19, head over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Government and private relief efforts vary by location and may have changed since this article was published. Consult a financial adviser or the relevant government agencies and private lenders for the most current information.

We hope you found this helpful. Our content is not intended to provide legal, investment or financial advice or to indicate that a particular Capital One product or service is available or right for you. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.

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