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Economic Stimulus Refund Phishing Scam

Summary:
Email purporting to be from the IRS claims that qualified recipients can receive the 2008 Economic Stimulus Refund by clicking a link in the message and filling in an online form (Full commentary below).



Status:
False - Phishing scam

Example:(Submitted, April 2008)
Subject: Get 2008 Economic Stimulus Refund ( $1800 )

Over 130 million Americans will receive refunds as
part of President Bush program to jumpstart the economy.

Our records indicate that you are qualified to receive the
2008 Economic Stimulus Refund.

The fastest and easiest way to receive your refund is by
direct deposit to your checking/savings account.

Please click on the link and fill out the form and submit
before April 18th, 2008 to ensure that your refund will be
processed as soon as possible.

Submitting your form on April 18th, 2008 or later means that
your refund will be delayed due to the volume of requests we
anticipate for the Economic Stimulus Refund.

To access Economic Stimulus Refund, please click here.

© Copyright 2008, Internal Revenue Service U.S.A. All rights reserved.




Commentary:
A number of phishing scam emails are currently targeting US taxpayers by offering bogus refund payments as bait. This email, purporting to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), claims that the recipient is qualified to receive the 2008 Economic Stimulus Refund. The recipient is instructed to follow a link in the message in order to fill in an online form, ostensibly to allow the refund to be processed. The email includes the IRS logo and copyright notice and is from a seemingly genuine IRS email address.

However, the email is not from the IRS and is designed to trick victims into submitting personal and financial information to criminals. Those who click the link in the message will be taken to a bogus website that closely resembles the genuine IRS site where they will be asked to fill in an online form like the one shown in the screenshot below:

Economic Stimulus Refund Scam Website

Although it may look like the legitimate IRS website, the bogus site is not genuine. It is not hosted on the IRS server, nor is it a secure web page as would be the case for genuine IRS web forms. All information submitted via the bogus form can be collected by scammers and used for fraud and identity theft.

The economic stimulus payment itself is real and many US citizens are eligible to receive it, starting in May 2008. However, according to information on the IRS website, so long as an eligible person has filed a federal tax return for 2007, he or she should automatically receive the economic stimulus payment either via direct deposit or paper check. The IRS will certainly not inform people that they are eligible for a payment via an unsolicited email nor will it require them to fill in an online form to claim their payment.

The IRS has published a warning about these scams on its website:
Warning Scam Artists Are Calling Taxpayers about the Stimulus Payments

If someone claiming to be from the IRS calls or e-mails you about the payments and asks you for a Social Security, bank account or credit card number, it's a scam. The scammers are trying to get your personal and financial information so they can empty your bank account, run up charges on your credit card and more.

©iStockphoto.com/John Cooke

IRS Tax Refund Scam Emails
The IRS does not and will not inform people about refunds or payments via unsolicited email. Such emails are likely to be phishing scams.
These scam emails try to create a sense of urgency in potential victims by specifying a supposed deadline date the same as or very close to the date the scam email is sent. The message warns that submitting the form after the specified deadline will result in payment processing delays. The ruse ensures that some victims will hurriedly click the link and fill in the scam form without due forethought in order to stay within the "deadline". In fact, the "deadline" is entirely arbitrary and changes according to the day that the scam emails are sent out.

Other versions if this phishing scam, like the example shown below, simply claim that the recipient is eligible for a tax refund and should click a link to apply for their money. Again, victims are taken to a bogus website designed to harvest personal and financial information:
After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a tax refund of $109.23. Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-9 days in order to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons.
For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.

To access your tax refund, please click here
Be wary of any emails that claim to be from the IRS and instruct recipients to supply personal information in order to claim a refund or payment. The IRS does not and will not inform people about refunds or payments via unsolicited email.

References:
Basic Information on the Stimulus Payments
IRS Tax Refund Phishing Scam
IRS Warns of New E-Mail and Telephone Scams Using the IRS Name; Advance Payment Scams Starting

Last updated: 19th April 2008
First published: 19th April 2008

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen

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