Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Talk of federal government rebates gives identity thieves a fresh angle

It is on the news almost nightly, in the newspaper daily, and on the internet. We are hearing about it just about every day. To stimulate the economy, President Bush is working very hard to seal the deal for many Americans to get rebate checks from the federal government.

For many Americans all the talk of a bonus $600-$1200 check from the federal government is exciting news. Many would like to get it today if that were possible. Everyone wants to be sure the government has their correct name, address, and all the other pertinent information so there will not be a delay. Unfortunately, many will end up with their identity stolen instead.

The thieves will play on that anticipation of you wanting the extra cash as soon as possible and will deploy all the traditional and still effective tactics.

The more common and widespread tactics that will be used:

1)Phishing: Hundreds of millions of emails will go out across the country claiming to be from the IRS or the federal government and will direct you to a special website to verify your personal information. If you click on the link you will end up at an official looking site with all the federal seals making it look authentic. Some phishing sites will even have warning about identity theft on them to give them a more secure look to any visitor.

Red Flag: People have many different email accounts, the government does not use email to contact anyone. You do not supply an email on you tax return!

2)Vishing: This is like the email hunt for information, but you will get a phone call instead. It may be a live person, it may be a recording, it may be a recording asking you to call an 800 number back and verify your information. They may ask for your social security number, bank account number where you would like your check deposited, even a pin number for a debit account.

Red Flag: The federal government will not call you for anything like this, ever. What makes this method even more dangerous, thieves can purchase any name they want to appear on your caller ID, such as IRS Rebate, Federal Rebate Office, US Gov’t Rebate, or any combination of words to get you to believe the call is authentic.

3)Websites: There will be scores of websites popping up using search terms to get you to visit them. Such terms will be “IRS rebate” ,“Federal Rebate”, “ Government Rebate” to name a few. They will bank on people using searches in Google and MSN and Yahoo, to find out more information. The sites may bait people in by claiming if you enter your information now, you will get a check in 2 or 3 weeks. That expediency will be extremely enticing to many so they will get drawn in and become victims.

Red Flag: The only sites that may have any information about this program will be an existing one with quite a bit of other information as well. It will end with a .GOV suffix. Examples are IRS.Gov, SSA.Gov, WhiteHouse.Gov. Any site with an official sounding name but a different suffix is not a federal site. Example is IRS.com which is owned by banks.com and is a play to get you to use their services for tax filing.

4)US Postal Service Mail: You may get a letter or a post card in the mail asking you to verify your bank account or social security number or other sensitive information. It may ask you to call a specified number or go to a website and enter in information.

Red Flag: The government will be using tax returns from previous years records to determine eligibility and addresses. They are not going to mount a new campaign to update records and personal information. If you do get something in the mail from the IRS or other federal agency, take the time to verify the validity prior to acting on it.

None of these tactics are new, but the event that will trigger their upsurge is. Basically this is an extra bonus for identity thieves to prey on victims who will not see this coming because they are blinded by the thought of the dollar sign.

The only real way to combat this offensive is to think about the details before you act. Ask yourself a few common sense questions, and practice fire prevention vs. firefighting.

The best defense for your identity is self defense.