Monday, March 17, 2008

Beware of rebate scammers and spammers

I’m sure most of you are excited about the planned stimulus check both the president and Congress hope will help spur on the economy. Checks are expected to be in the mail by May.

I won’t presume to tell you whether to spend it or to save it. It’s your money and it’s up to you.

Guess who else is excited about this? Spammers and scammers, they see the rebates as an opportunity to line their pockets with your money and even worse, your identity.

People are already receiving official looking e-mails and even phone calls, claiming to be from the IRS. Here’s the scam: the crooks e-mail or call you saying they can facilitate an early check to you and just need your bank account information for direct deposit. The e-mails have IRS logos on them, which can look very official. These e-mails are designed to fool the smartest and savviest of you all.

The Internal Revenue Service makes two important points:

  • Their agents or representatives will never call or e-mail you.

  • You won’t even be eligible for stimulus checks until you file your 2007 taxes.


These crooks can be convincingly persistent telling you that if you don’t cooperate, you won’t get your check. They will also try and get additional personal information in order to steal your identity. Sadly, it’s the elderly that are getting ripped off the most.

I’ve personally been a victim of identity theft. It’s one of the reasons I partnered with cybercrime expert and author Jayne Hitchcock on our Protect Yourself Online tutorial. It’s based on her terrific book “Net Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Jayne was a victim of cyber stalking, so you can understand our motivation to protect others from these kinds of blatant rip-offs and attacks.

I asked Jayne if she’d share some tips on what to do if you’re contacted by someone pretending to be from the IRS, or worse yet, if you fell for their scams, she was happy to help out.

Jayne said if you took the bait and gave away your financial or credit card information, here’s what to do.


  • Report it to the card issuer as quickly as possible: Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service to deal with such emergencies.

  • Cancel your account and open a new one.

  • Review your billing statements carefully after the loss: If they show any unauthorized charges, send a letter to the card issuer describing each questionable charge.

  • Know your rights according to the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) for credit card loss or fraudulent charges: Your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. If the loss involves your credit card number, but not the card itself, you have no liability for unauthorized use.

  • Also know your rights associated with the Electronic Funds Transfer Association (EFTA) for ATM or debit card loss or fraudulent transfers: Your liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your ATM or debit card depends on how quickly you report the loss. You risk unlimited loss if you fail to report an unauthorized transfer within 60 days after your bank statement containing unauthorized use is mailed to you.

If you gave out personal information:

  • Report the theft to the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion® and do the following: request that they place a fraud alert and victim’s statement in your file. Request a free copy of your credit report to check whether any accounts were opened without your consent. Request that the agencies remove inquiries and/or fraudulent accounts stemming from the theft.


    Equifax Credit Information Services - Consumer Fraud Div.

    P.O. Box 105496

    Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5496

    Tel: (800) 766-0008


    P.O. Box 2104

    Allen, Texas 75013-2104

    Tel: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)

    Trans Union Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.

    P.O. Box 390

    Springfield, PA 19064-0390

    Tel: (800) 680-7289


  • Notify your bank(s) and ask them to flag your account and contact you regarding any unusual activity: If bank accounts were set up without your consent, close them. If your ATM card was stolen, get a new card, account number and PIN.

  • Contact your local police department to file a criminal report.

  • Contact the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline to report the unauthorized use of your personal identification information.

  • Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of your identity theft and check to see whether an unauthorized license number had been issued in your name.

  • Notify the passport office to watch out for anyone ordering a passport in your name.

  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at

  • File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

  • Document the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak to or contact regarding the incident. Follow up your phone calls with letters and keep copies of all correspondence.

    The FTC also advises:

  • If you get an e-mail or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information via e-mail. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the e-mail using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company’s correct web address. In any case, don’t cut and paste the link in the message.

  • Don’t e-mail personal or financial information. E-mail is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization’s web site, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a web site that begins with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged these security icons.

  • Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.

  • Use antivirus software and keep it up-to-date. Some phishing e-mails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge. Antivirus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Antivirus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for antivirus software that recognizes current viruses, as well as older ones, can effectively reverse the damage, and updates automatically. A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It’s especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Finally, your operating system (like Windows® or Linux) may offer free software patches to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.

  • Be cautious about opening any attachments or downloading any files from e-mails you receive, regardless of who sent them.

  • Report suspicious activity to the FTC. If you get spam that is phishing for information, forward it to If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at and then visit the FTC’s Identity Theft web site at to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from ID theft. Visit to learn other ways to avoid e-mail scams and deal with deceptive spam.

As you can see, Jayne knows her stuff, and this is why we were so happy to work with her on our Protect Yourself Online tutorial.

Let me reiterate, the IRS will never, ever attempt to contact you by e-mail or phone to ask for personal information.

If you get e-mail, delete it immediately. If you get a phone call, hang up right away.

Stay safe and enjoy your check!


John W. Scherer

John is CEO & founder of Video Professor, Inc.