Monday, February 9, 2009

IRS warns of stimulus scams

Offers for checks are identity-theft plotsBy Christina E. Sanchez • THE TENNESSEAN • February 9, 2009 Congress hasn't settled on a stimulus package yet, but scammers are preying on people's hopes for one that would put money in their bank accounts. E-mails and phone calls purporting to be from the Internal Revenue Service promise to get people a stimulus payment. Click a link. Fill out a form. Give personal information. A check will be yours. Not true, warn IRS officials who said there are scammers in more than 70 countries trying to steal people's identities. And federal and local officials are alerting the public, encouraging people not to let tough financial times get the best of their judgment. The IRS would never contact a person by e-mail, said Dan Boone, spokesman for IRS offices in Tennessee and Alabama. "Don't click on any links and don't open any attachments," Boone said. "Either delete it or forward it to the IRS." The IRS doesn't even have taxpayers' e-mail addresses, Boone said. The e-mail may read something like this: "After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a stimulus payment. To submit your stimulus payment form, please download the attached document … you'll be receiving a check." Under the economic plan Congress is crafting, most of the relief to individuals would come in the form of tax credits that would add money to each paycheck, not provide direct payments. 'Nobody is immune' Metro police Sgt. David Howard, who works with the fraud unit, said he hasn't yet seen the influx of IRS scams that arrived last spring when stimulus checks went out. But he is sure that if lawmakers do decide to give taxpayers extra money, the scams will start anew. "Nobody is immune from these scams, no matter what age you are, what race you are, what education level you have," Howard said. Howard offers his own advice on this scam or any solicitation. "Don't do business with people you do not know," he said. "If you need something done, talk to people you can trust and see what has been successful for them." IRS spokesman Boone said little can be done to stop all scammers because they are so widespread and in so many countries, though the agency is able to track some down. "The scammers read the news just like everyone else, and they try to tie their e-mail messages to whatever is going on with a stimulus check or a refund to make it look more official and believable," Boone said. "Our best defense is to make the public aware."

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