It almost sounds too good to be true: Most families with kids will start receiving monthly checks for up to $300 per child this summer, starting in mid-July and continuing through December. And they don’t have to do anything, except perhaps keep the money safe from scammers.
“It’s the fact that people don’t have to do anything that scammers are going to glom onto and say, ‘Oh, yes, you do,’” says Federal Trade Commission spokesperson Colleen Tressler. “If you don’t have to do anything, that just sounds too easy.”
Scammers will say “they’ll help you get the payments faster or earlier, and we know they can’t, or get you more money, which they can’t, or tell you other lies,” she says.
About those checks
The money is an advance on half of the child tax credit for tax year 2021. Families will get the other half when they file their 2021 taxes next year. Or they can opt out of this prepayment and get the full credit next year.
A quick rundown of the child tax credit prepayment, which was set in motion by the American Rescue Plan:
- Who’s eligible: People with at least one child who is 17 or younger as of Dec. 31, 2021, and who meet income requirements. The maximum benefit goes to those with modified adjusted gross income under $75,000 for single filers, $112,500 for head of household and $150,000 for married filing jointly. The benefit phases out for higher incomes.
- How much will people get: The maximum benefit is $250 per month for children 6-17, $300 per month for children 5 and younger.
- When to expect a check: On or about the 15th of the month, from July to December.
- How the payment will be delivered: By direct deposit, paper check or debit card.
Beware of unsolicited communication
Tressler cautions that the IRS will not email, text, call or direct-message you as an initial contact. You should delete those messages unread. Clicking a link or responding could connect you with a scammer or infect your phone or computer with a virus; it won’t help you get your check any sooner.
Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, agrees: “Do not rely on incoming communications. If you didn’t initiate the contact, don’t engage.” She adds that caller ID cannot be trusted; even if a government agency’s name is listed, thieves may have originated the call and “spoofed” the caller ID display.
Giving sensitive information such as your birthdate and Social Security number over the phone is particularly fraught, she said. Once scammers have that information, they can use your information to pose as you on the IRS site and reroute your money to them. The same thing can happen if you key your information into a site other than the actual IRS one.
What to do instead
Tressler points out that most people don’t need to do anything at all unless it’s simply hanging up the phone and deleting texts and emails.
If you want to opt out of the automatic payments or change your information, you can do it safely at the IRS website. Make sure you are at irs.gov. An IRS child credit information page has links to tools that allow users to make changes or to check to see if they are enrolled. Other tips:
- Don’t respond to any communication from the IRS other than snail mail, and be sure it’s genuine. Real IRS correspondence has a notice (CP) or letter (LTR) number on either the top or the bottom right corner. This IRS web page can help you verify authenticity.
- If your check will be mailed to you, go to USPS.com and sign up for Informed Delivery, which emails you photos of your mail before it is delivered. It’s free. When your check is expected, pick up your mail or have someone do it for you as quickly as possible. Velasquez says there were reports of stimulus checks being stolen from mailboxes as well as attempts to strongarm mail-delivery vehicles to steal the checks.
- If you believe your check was stolen from your mailbox, the IRS can trace the check and replace the money.
- If someone tries to scam you out of some of the money or offers “help” in getting it sooner, you can report it to the FTC at email@example.com.
- Finally, if you share custody of a child, be sure you know who is supposed to get those checks, Velasquez says. Sometimes what appears to be a missing check isn’t.