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Phishing Scam Uses IRS Rebate Lure

The tax filing season has passed, the economic stimulus rebate season is upon us, and the phishers are changing their bait.

The lure this time is the $600 rebate ($1,200 per household) that the Internal Revenue Service will begin sending to taxpayers in May and a supposed opportunity to speed up the process.

E-mails purporting to be from the IRS are arriving in inboxes with instructions to recipients that if they visit the linked Web site and provide bank account and routing numbers, their rebate can be deposited directly to the account more quickly. To add an element of urgency, the message includes a deadline -- April 24 -- for providing information, but that is likely to change.

Needless to say, the message is a fraud (or a phraud). MX Logic predicted earlier this year that rebates would be a phishing target, and reported the first appearances of the e-mails in a recent blog entry.

The IRS has long been a popular lure for phishers, who seek to tease financial information out of unsuspecting taxpayers. The e-mails come from phony addresses spoofing the "irs.gov" domain, and the messages often include logos or other graphic elements lifted from the IRS Web site. It has become enough of a problem that the agency has put up a Web page asking citizens to report phishing, e-mail scams and bogus IRS Web sites.

"The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through e-mail," the agency warns on the site. "In addition, the IRS does not request detailed personal information through e-mail or ask taxpayers for the PIN numbers, passwords or similar secret access information for their credit card, bank or other financial accounts."

The site also contains detailed instructions for forwarding suspect e-mails to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov and offers examples of phishing e-mails, phony Web sites and resources from the Federal Trade Commission.

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," the IRS advises. "Get your tax information at IRS.gov, the only Web site sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service."

About the Author

William Jackson is the senior writer for Government Computer News (GCN.com).