Monday, May 12, 2008
Help Me Howard: Rebate Scam
You've heard this line before, "The check's in the mail." Well, for millions of Americans, it's actually true this time, but what one woman thought was the IRS contacting her about her rebate turned out to be a scam. Here's Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- If you are like most people, money is probably a little tight right now.
Desiree Elliott: "Extremely rough, extremely rough."
That's one reason congress voted to give many Americans a piece of the economic stimulus package. Checks are being mailed out right now to give people like Desiree some cash to ease their financial pain.
Desiree Elliott: "When I did the IRS calculator, it said about $2,100."
Desiree expected the check to come through the mail sometime in May, but then it seemed a better offer dropped into her e-mail box.
Desiree Elliott: "I get an e-mail that says, 'Hey, if you provide some information on this IRS link, you can get a transfer directly to a credit card for you.'"
This is the website on the left side of your screen. The official IRS site is on the right side. Very, very similar.
Desiree Elliott: "It showed exactly the IRS logo. It went through a whole long thing about over 130 million people are going to get this check."
Desiree then followed the easy instructions.
Desiree Elliott: "This was asking for a credit card number, your name, the CVV number and your pin number. Red flag right away, red flag, but I entered it."
Desiree entered her confidential information so the money could be deposited directly into her checking account. Then, fortunately, she went back to the website.
Desiree Elliott: "Went back into the e-mail, tried to hit some of the other buttons on the screen and the other hyperlinks, and they did't work. I caught on real quick."
Now worried she had been scammed, she immediately called her bank, cancelled her debit card and closed her checking account. That took 20 minutes, and, in that time, the crooks had already gone to work.
Desiree Elliott: "By that time, my Credit Union fraud department had called me to advise me that someone in Las Vegas had tried to check my balance three times, had tried to withdraw $100, and it had all been blocked."
Over the past few days, we have heard from a dozen people who got the same e-mail from crooks. The scammers are attempting to hit everyone.
Desiree Elliott: "A couple of my friends who work for the city of Miami already e-mailed me back saying that they did the same thing, and they are in the same boat, and they are freaking out right now."
But if this brand new slick scam tricks you and wipes out your account, legally, are you out of luck and money?
Howard Finkelstein: "If you fall for a scam like this, notify your bank the minute you see a change in your account. The reason, if you report it quickly, you are only responsible for $50 that is stolen. The longer you wait, the more cash you will lose and can't recover."
When we tried to trace the scammer's website, it first took us to Argentina. Then another attempt showed it came out of Europe. That's because the crooks hacked into legitimate websites to hide their location. They could be sitting in Nigeria or in North Dade. It's nearly impossible to track them down.
The IRS says taxpayers do not have to fill out a separate form to get the rebate. It will come automatically to your bank account or home address, whichever place you chose when you did your tax return. They also told us, "We have seen these scams coming from 20 different countries, and when we shut one down, another one pops up," and, Howard says, sadly, many scammers will succeed.
Howard Finkelstein: "Most frauds don't look like a fraud. That's why they are successful, and intelligent people get ripped off, which is why you have to be vigilant and on guard and not share your personal information."
Desiree will now wait on the real check from the IRS and hopes the next time somebody tries to scam her, she listens to Desiree.
Desiree Elliott: "You got to trust your own intuition. The whole time I'm saying, 'This is too easy, this is too many questions.' I should have listened to my own inner voice."
Patrick Fraser: "Those checks are being mailed out right now and will continue to pop up in mail boxes through July. They are being sent out based on your social security number. You don't have to apply. If you filled out a tax return, they will come automatically."
Scammed, ripped off and ready to return to sender? Contact us, we can't send you a cash rebate, but you can take our legal advice to the bank. Now, let's cross our fingers as we say that.
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