In response to the COVID-19 pandemic stimulus checks have been paid out to large sectors of the population in the United States, with most individuals receiving $1200. With the introduction of these checks, fraud has also skyrocketed, and the IRS reported $46.17 million in total fraud loss up to June 2020.1
If you have tried to deposit a dead or fraudulent COVID-19 stimulus check you may be charged with a federal crime such as bank fraud, mail fraud, or wire fraud. All of these are serious crimes, with long sentences of imprisonment or large fines. In some cases people have been defrauded of their stimulus check, and when they try to deposit what they think is their real money, they may find that they have been a victim of a scam. Even though they are the victim, they may nonetheless be charged with a crime. Regardless of why you have been charged with fraud, you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Who Should Have Received Money?
There are several groups who should have received money as part of the COVID-19 economic stimulus response. This includes:
- Taxpayers (those who filed a federal tax return in the last couple of years).
- People receiving Social Security, Railroad, or other retirement benefits.
- People receiving public benefits like SSDI, disability, or veterans’ benefits.
- People who are not required to file a federal tax return, such as people who have no income or made less than $12,200 in the previous year.
All of these groups should have received $1200, with those earning up to $75,000 receiving the full amount, and those earning between $75,000 and $99,000 getting slightly less. Families were also entitled to $500 per eligible child.
Stimulus Check Scams
Alongside the distribution of these stimulus checks, a number of scams arose. These have affected people in a number of ways. First, some scams are conducted by a person making contact by phone, email, text message, or through social media about the stimulus check. The IRS did not contact individuals in this way to discuss the stimulus payment.
Instead, money should have been received through a direct deposit, through a Direct Express debit card, or paper check. The IRS also set up a website at irs.gov/coronavirus, and some people employed phishing schemes to redirect people to fake IRS websites.
The IRS is aware of these scams, and has been on the lookout for individuals who may be committing check fraud, or mail and wire fraud.
What is Check Fraud?
Check fraud is covered under U.S. Code § 1344, under the federal crime of bank fraud. Bank fraud is if you knowingly execute, or attempt to execute, a false or fraudulent scheme intended to:
- defraud a financial institution; or
- obtain money, funds, credits, assets, securities, or other property that is owned by, or under the custody or control of, a financial institution (such as a bank).
There are serious consequences for committing check fraud. This can include a fine of up to $1,000,000, or you can be imprisoned for up to 30 years (or both).2 If you have been charged with depositing a dead or fraudulent COVID-19 stimulus check, this may be one of the charges you are faced with.
If you can show that the fraudulent activity was on the part of someone else, this may be a defence you can raise. In addition, if you can show that you never intended to defraud anyone, this is also evidence you can raise.
Wire or Mail Fraud
If you have attempted to deposit a dead or fraudulent COVID-19 stimulus check, or you have been accused of running a COVID-19 stimulus check scam, you can also be charged with mail or wire fraud. This is also a serious federal crime.
For stimulus check fraud schemes that have involved letters, phone calls, or emails, this is a clear use of the mails or wires to defraud other people. Wire fraud includes “wire communication” that is made with the intent to “devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses.” Wire communications include telephone, radio or TV broadcasts, email or the use of the internet. This also includes if an electronic communication is “caused” to be transmitted – meaning that you can still be charged with mail or wire fraud if you induce someone else to commit a fraudulent act using the wires or mails.
The elements of the crime are generally:
- That there was a voluntary and intentional creation of, or participation in, a scheme to defraud another person out of money;
- That it was done with the intention to defraud;
- That it was reasonably foreseeable that interstate wire communications would be used; and
- That interstate wire communications were used.
The consequences of mail and wire fraud are the same as bank fraud: a fine of up to $1,000,000 or imprisonment for up to 30 years, or both. If you can argue that any one of the above four elements was not met, you may have an opportunity to create a defense for yourself. For example, that there was no intention to defraud, or your participation in the scheme was not voluntary.
Call Stechschulte Nell For Help
If you have tried to deposit a dead or fraudulent COVID-19 stimulus check, or you have been charged with mail, wire, or bank fraud, the law office of Stechschulte Nell can advise you. Don’t wait. Call our top-rated Florida law firm at (813) 280-1244 to speak to an experienced federal defense attorney. We’re available 24/7 to take your call.