Don't Fall Victim To a Stimulus Check Scam

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The government is ahead of schedule and sending out tax rebate checks early. However, scam artists are never off the clock, and with some 111 million homes eligible for a cash infusion, some crooks are seeking to profit on the impatience of American taxpayers this spring.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began mailing economic stimulus payments April 28 but not everyone will get their money at the same time. A person's social security number, and whether they chose to get their check through direct deposit or the mail, will determine when they actually receive the funds. However, the IRS is also warning taxpayers of a number of scams taking place in which con artists looking to steal money are urging people to reveal personal information.

Some of the scams involve email messages while others take place over the phone. However, the IRS generally communicates with people via letters in the mail. So, an email or phone call should be a red flag.

One phone scam reportedly works like this: Taxpayers receive a call from someone who claims to work for the IRS, then the con artist prompts the victim to reveal bank account information and Social Security numbers by insisting that it will speed processing of their stimulus payment. Jay Foley, founder of ID Theft Resource Center, says that this information request should also raise your suspicions. According to Foley, "no legitimate business will ever ask for personal information over the phone or in an email."

Another variation of the IRS scam is being carried out through "official looking emails" from IRS.com, which should be another red flag. (The IRS and any website they work through will always have the URL ending ".gov" rather than ".com.") The email scams then prompt people to enter personal information onto a form which it claims is necessary to receive the stimulus check. Other emails ask the taxpayer to download an attachment or reply to the email, both of which contain spyware designed to steal personal information from a victim’s computer.

Once again, Foley says that it is important to realize that the IRS would never ask for that kind of information via email, besides they already have the numbers that they need since they are printed on your tax return. Also, there is no form needed to receive this year's rebate. The only way to receive the rebate is by filing a 2007 federal income tax return.

Foley says that for those who suspect that they may be the victim of a scam or a security breach, there are a number of steps they can take to correct the problem.

If the scam was internet-based, people should print a copy of the page that was sent. Also, the IRS asks that people forward any suspect emails to a special address that they have set up to take care of the issue: phishing@irs.gov. If the scam took place over the phone, people should retain any phone numbers or caller ID information. This info should also be sent to the IRS via phishing@irs.com.

If pertinent banking information was revealed, people should immediately close any accounts that may be affected as well as linked accounts, debit cards. and credit cards. The next step would be to file a police report which documents the problem and contact all three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) of the fraud alert.

After following these steps people should monitor their financial statements very carefully and report any suspicious activity. To avoid the inconvenience of identity theft, Foley says it is most important to always have a guard up. “People need to be incredibly careful of their surrounding and who they are giving information to. You must always make sure that the company you are dealing with is secure and legitimate and, don’t ever work with a company or person that asks for your personal information when they don’t need it.”

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