All the government's talk of stimulus plans is stimulating fraudsters, too.
One stimulus scam making the rounds is an official looking email, complete with the IRS logo and a photo of the president, which promises a cut of the stimulus bill money if consumers will enter account information on a fake web site.
To fight this fraud, the International Trademark Association, an association that advocates for fair global commerce, and the Federal Trade Commission are now warning consumers of these scams, which employ a tactic known as "phishing."
“They send an email offering to process your cut of the stimulus bill,” says Matthew Schmidt, communications manager for the International Trademark Organization. "They play to people’s sense that there is stimulus money out there, even though there will be no individual checks like there were with the Bush stimulus.”
How the Scam Works
The plan is simple: Criminals send you an email with an official looking trademarked logo such as that of the IRS, according to Brian Hale, a spokesperson for the FBI’s national press office.
The recipient is told that stimulus payments are being offered through a government agency and that they must click on a link to claim their portion of it.
Once they have clicked on the link, they are led to a site that is virtually identical to that used by government agencies such as the IRS.
The victim is instructed to give their name, address, Social Security number and bank account number where payments can be made. The victim may be under the impression that they will receive a payment from the IRS directly into their account. However, by giving up their personal information, they have made it easier for someone to steal money or, worse, their identity.
Here are a few tips to help you keep your money and your identity from falling into the wrong hands.
1. Follow your gut. Free money is rarely without strings. If you’re being promised something for nothing, there is a good chance you are the target of a scam.
2. Know your web site addresses. The email addresses and web sites for government offices such as the IRS, the FDIC and the White House are never listed under “.com” or “.org.” Look for “.gov” at the end of every email and web site to be sure that it is legitimate.
3. Do your homework. Scam artists count on you to stay uninformed. You can educate yourself about the details of the stimulus act by visiting Recovery.gov or the White House web site.
4. Keep your private information private. The IRS does not request personal information online. So, if you receive an email requesting that you provide them with your Social Security or bank account numbers, you can be sure it's a scam.
5. Just delete. You may be tempted to visit a web site that promises free money but, according to Schmidt, doing so can litter your computer with dangerous spyware. The surest way to protect yourself from an online scam is to delete messages from unfamiliar sources.
If you have received an email that you believe to be part of an online scam, you can forward the message or the web site URL to the IRS at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also forward the email to the Federal Trade Commission at email@example.com.
If you have been victimized by an online scam artist, you can file a complaint with the FTC.