Scam artists target tax rebate checks

Schemes involve phone, online solicitations from crooks posing as IRS, Social Security employees.

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Stimulus bust
Most Americans are likely to spend their rebate checks to pay off debt which will not boost the economy.

AUSTIN, Texas (CNN) -- It's an old crime with a new twist. Never missing an opportunity, fraudsters are hitting the phones and the Internet looking for victims.

On the heels of the government's plan to stimulate the economy by sending out special tax rebates, authorities say these crooks are posing as officials from the Internal Revenue Service or Social Security Administration. They are calling people and asking for personal financial information so they can "directly deposit" rebate money.

One Texas woman, 69-year-old Edna Lawrence, says she got called at least eight times by a man posing as an IRS agent. She didn't fall for it, and instead notified the state's attorney general about the caller.

"Actually, he was kind of pushy. Basically he wasn't going to take 'no,' and I had to hang up on him," she said.

One of her daughter's friends, however, who received the same type of phone call, believed the caller and lost more than $200, Lawrence said.

"I think it is horrible that anybody - anybody - would do that to anyone, because those people are looking forward to that money," Lawrence said.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a consumer alert notifying Texans about the new scams. He says economic hard times could get in the way of making good decisions.

"As a result, if people get a phone call or an e-mail saying we can get your money to you even quicker, it causes sometimes people to respond. ... give out information they shouldn't be giving out," Abbott told CNN.

Abbott's office has received more than a dozen complaints from people who have been fraudulently contacted either by phone or e-mail.

In one on-line variation, individuals around the country have received e-mails purportedly from the IRS instructing them to click on a special attached form to provide personal information. But the e-mails are fake.

Tax scams aren't new. But with rebate checks heading to about 128 million households, this year could be worse than usual.

Kevin Kolbye, an assistant special agent in charge at the FBI says he expects the scammers will be working overtime. They are getting more sophisticated, he says, especially when it comes to online fraud.

"We've had one recently that looked like it came from the director of the FBI. I think they are becoming a little bit more sophisticated, a little better at duplicating either logos or insignias and making the information look more legitimate."

For the record, the IRS will never ask for bank account or similar information over the phone or Internet.

To get the special stimulus rebate, all most taxpayers have to do is file a 2007 tax return.

The IRS has also cautioned taxpayers about the scams, urging anyone who receives a questionable e-mail or phone call to log on to the IRS Web site (http://www.irs.gov/) to report it.

From CNN's Kelli Arena and Kevin Bohn To top of page

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