Income Tax Refund Identity Theft Scam

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Income Tax Refund Identity Theft Scam

A scam currently going around is an email that purports to be from the IRS saying you have a refund of about $150 waiting if you will just confirm who you are by submitting certain personal information.  If you do so, however, your bank account will be emptied and your identity will be stolen.

The IRS does NOT contact taxpayers via email, nor do various financial institutions — such as your bank — unless you have personally made prior arrangements.  Cyber crooks realize you will be suspicious of an email saying you've won the Irish Sweepstakes for a million dollars, but they are banking on you to surmise: "Hey, this is possible — $150 tax refund — what have I got to lose by filling in the form?"  A lot!

As I am writing this (02/08/08) I see that the president has signed a bill that will send a "tax refund" check to most taxpayers (which is supposed to help stimulate the nation's sagging economy).  This could be a windfall for crooks who perpetrate this kind of scam because nearly everybody will now be looking for a check from the IRS, and thus more likely to fall for one of these bogus emails.
Just keep in mind that the IRS will NOT be notifying intended recipients by email and you won't become a victim.

These phishing emails are just a tiny percentage of the millions of spam messages sent out each day with pitches for cheap EDS cures, body part enhancements, and prescription drugs with no prescription needed.  I am asked constantly by readers how to stop receiving this kind of junk.

Well, sending a complaint to the email's return address does nothing because the address is usually stolen anyway.  And if you click a link saying "Check here to be removed from our mailing list," you are merely confirming that your email address is valid and available for receiving even more spam.

Nowadays, fortunately, a lot of ISPs have taken the initiative of watching for this kind of fraud and deleting it before it gets to your Inbox.  However, there is no perfect method for filtering spam — there is just too much of it and a lot of it is cunningly designed to look like legitimate mail.  Worse yet, email you are expecting can be accidentally trashed because it looks like spam.

This is why most Web-based email services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AIM Mail, now funnel suspicious-looking messages into a special Spam Folder, where you can quickly and easily review it before deleting it.

Similar scams involve messages telling you your eBay or PayPal account has been "locked for your protection" because of suspicious attempts to log onto it.  Others will tell you about a "withdrawal" from your account and invite you to Click Here if you want to challenge it, or to Click Here to acknowledge that someone has bought something from you and wants to send you the money.

One way to spot these as scams is to examine the clickable URL, such as www.paypal.com, by right-clicking it and then clicking Properties.  One I received recently showed the real URL to be: www.hotel.sklep.pl, which means it's located in Poland.  At the bottom of the message I was invited to read their Security Policy at www.paypal.com — but this URL was not clickable.  Nonetheless, typing it into my browser did indeed take me to the PayPal home page, where the policy was easily found.  This, of course, was to con me into thinking the whole message was legitimate.

© - Donald Ray Edrington - All Rights Reserved





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