Published 1:46 am Thursday, May 29, 2008
When most people think of identity theft, they picture someone stealing a wallet or rummaging through the trash for old bank records. But in the new age of the Internet, the information super-highway, identity theft is more likely to happen through e-mail than regular mail.
Thousands of Americans each year fall victim to identity thieves “phishing” for personal and financial information. The most recent and damaging of these schemes is through an e-mail claiming to come from the Internal Revenue Service about the “2008 Economic Stimulus Refund.” The tax refund initiative, which was implemented by President Bush to revive the economy, has become a starting point for identity thieves to hurt people, and in turn the economy.
Bush had good intentions for all working Americans when he supported implementing the refunds and, without a doubt, he did not envision anything negative coming out of the initiative. But with new, more effective ways to steal one’s identity, anything is fair game, including the Internal Revenue Service.
The phony e-mail claims to come from firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or other variations on the irs.gov theme, according to the IRS Web site. The e-mail “told the recipients that they were eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount,” said the IRS Web site.
The most alarming thing about the scam is how authentic and believable it is. The e-mail directs one to a Web site that looks like a carbon-copy of the IRS Web site. “However, it has been modified to ask for personal and financial information that the genuine IRS interactive page does not require,” according to the IRS Web site.
Any unwitting person, when enticed by an e-mail claiming over $600 in tax refunds from the IRS, will most likely jump at the opportunity. What people enticed by such an e-mail need to remember is that the IRS does not ask for credit card/debit card account numbers, secret passwords or PINs. “Genuine organizations or institutions do not need your secret data for ordinary business transactions,” according to the IRS Web site.
For someone who does fall victim to such a scam, remember that he or she is not alone. The Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration reports finding found 12 separate Web sites in 18 different countries hosting variations on this scheme, according to the IRS Web site.
Being a victim of identity theft can bring about a scary and trying time in one’s life, especially for people on a limited income. If one believes he or she has given out personal information to such an Internet scam, it is best to contact the bank he or she has an account with and the IRS, if possible. It’s hard to avoid the allure of such an e-mail, especially if one is living off of limited funds. Such an e-mail might seem like a golden ticket, but it can be as fake as fool’s gold. And one doesn’t want to be the fool.
If identity theft is not detected in due time, the consequences can be dire. Identity thieves can run up credit-card limits within days, if not hours, and bank-account numbers can be used to withdraw vast amounts of cold, hard cash. These people are con artists and felons, and do not care about the welfare of their fellow man. Keep this in mind next time there’s a form to fill out online.
Bush has tried to counteract such acts of “phishing” by creating an Identity Theft Task Force, but identity thieves will remain on the loose without everyone’s help and use of caution.
If you believe a scam artist is “phishing” for you online, make sure you don’t go for the bait.