Identity thieves beat Obama to stimulus package punch

Spam promises government money, steals personal info instead, says researcher

Although the US government's economic stimulus package hasn't even gotten out of Congress, scammers aren't waiting; they've launched multiple campaigns that tempt users into revealing personal information, a security researcher warned Thursday.

One spam-and-scam example, said Dermot Harnett, a principal researcher with Symantec, poses as a message from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and claims that the recipient qualifies for something called a "Stimulus Payment."

"After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined that you are eligible to receive a Stimulus Payment," the bogus e-mail reads. The message then tells the user to download the attached document, supposedly a form that must be submitted to the IRS.

The document, in fact, is an identity stealing tool, said Harnett, that asks the user to provide personal information, much or all of it data that the actual IRS would presumably have on file.

Another stimulus-related spam campaign Harnett has monitored touts "Economic Stimulus Grants," and tempts the unwary with a link that offers fake testimonials. "I found the grant I needed and filled out the forms and sent them in and in about two weeks I received a check in my hand for [US]$100,000," one reads.

"This one takes people to a marketing type of site," said Harnett, "and after it asks them to answer a few questions, including salary range, e-mail address, mailing address and date of birth, it promises to send out a CD that shows you how to claim one of these grants. They're building up their files on people." Another twist: The CD comes with a postage and handling charge, which the scammers use to collect credit card information.

It's no surprise that such spam is circulating, said Harnett. "People often have news alerts set from various organizations, so they expect to see subject lines about the stimulus package," he said, noting that the tactic of using current events is nothing new.

Given that stimulus scams cranked up as long as two weeks ago -- and President Obama's US$900 billion plan isn't slated to come to a vote in the US Senate until later Thursday -- "they're ahead of the game," said Harnett.

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