Some landlords are illegally spying on tenants’ stimulus check status

Stimulus payments, intended to help those struggling due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, started reaching Americans last week. The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) expected up to 80 million Americans to receive their payments via direct deposit by April 15, with paper checks being mailed starting next week. While millions are awaiting their payments to help with necessities, landlords are also eager for their tenants to receive stimulus checks, so they can pay rent. Unfortunately, some landlords have not just been waiting patiently; instead, some appear to be resorting to illegal tactics to learn when their tenants are receiving their payments in order to pressure them to pay.

What Are Some Landlords Allegedly Doing On IRS Get My Payments Portal?

In order to help Americans to track the status of their stimulus payments, the IRS and Treasury Department launched a new tool, Get My Payment. The tool provides individuals “with the status of your payment, including the date your payment is scheduled to be deposited into your bank account or mailed.” While the rollout of the portal has had its issues, including confusing error messages telling users, “Payment Status Not Available,” it has also helped many understand the date their payment is scheduled to be deposited into their bank account.

In order to check the status of a stimulus payment, one only needs to provide basic information, including name, date of birth, street address, and Social Security Number (SSN).

This basic information is readily available on the dark web thanks to data breaches like Equifax, where the personal information of 145 million Americans was exposed. It is also readily available to many landlords through the applications that tenants complete when applying to rent a property. While knowing someone’s payment status may not help a criminal steal funds, it could certainly help landlords. Some of them appear to be accessing this information illegally, impersonating tenants to check the status of their stimulus payments and then harassing them to pay their rent.

One Twitter user, Joshua Browder, showed an example of an alleged text exchange between a landlord and tenant, showing just how easy it is to abuse the IRS’ “Get My Payment” portal:

(Updated: According to a Facebook post, the property management company is in Forest Grove, Portland, Oregon and the tenant in the case is Austin Goodrich)

Other uses posted photos that included similar claims.

Before gaining access to the IRS portal, users have to click through and acknowledge that use of the system is for authorized use only. The warning states, “unauthorized use of this system is prohibited and subject to criminal and civil penalties, including all penalties applicable to willful unauthorized access (UNAX) or inspection of taxpayer records.” Inputting someone else’s personal information to check the status of a stimulus payments doesn’t qualify as “authorized use,” and is illegal.

What Should You Do If Your Landlord Checks Your Stimulus Check Status?

You may want to speak with a lawyer to evaluate options if your landlord checks your payment status on the IRS portal. You may also want to consider filing a police report.

What Else Should I Know?

There is no data to contextualize how widespread this illegal tactic is. Presumably, some landlords may do this without being as brazen and admitting to it in a text thread; however, it may also be a few bad apples and not a rotten barrel. There have been many heartwarming examples of landlords who have stepped up to support their tenants during the crisis. One, Matt Salerno, forgave April’s rent for 200 – 300 tenants in his 18 rental buildings. As landlords and tenants navigate the uncertain future, they will surely need to stay in close contact; however impersonating tenants and spying on their stimulus check status should not be tolerated.