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Hoax stimulus check e-mails circulating

February 25, 2009
The e-mail that shows up in the inbox of a person's computer looks official enough. It details a plan to allow those struggling in today's economy to reap their share of the stimulus package immediately. BEWARE, it doesn't work that way.

The e-mails began showing up about two weeks ago from a company calling itself the "GiftHouse Team," and supposedly are associated with a "Bullseye Media" Web site doing business at P.O. Box 70, Camp Hill, Pa.

The e-mail states: "If you're one of the millions of Americans struggling in today's economy, help is available. You've been chosen for the chance to get a U.S. Stimulus Check based on your annual income level. (Participation required. See below for details.)"

The e-mail directs readers to "refer to the chart below to determine the amount of money you can receive."

$0 - $35,000 … $709 U.S. Stimulus Check

$35,000 - $70,000 … $615 U.S. Stimulus Check

$70,000 + … $504 U.S. Stimulus Check

The e-mail then instructs people to: "Make your selection here, then follow the instructions on our website before this offer expires."


GiftHouse Team

But the e-mail is a hoax, or at least a system designed to get innocent people to divulge personal information to someone who would use that information for their own gain.

"I've had comments from several of my clients wondering, 'When are we getting our stimulus check?', " Shirley Montgomery, of Montgomery Tax Service near Grantsburg, said.

"My concern is that some of these people, due to the bad economy, and the word 'stimulus' being in the e-mail, may be taken advantage of. Many of these kinds of e-mails are only seeking your identifiers, such as your Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers and so on. And I caution all of my clients against going to the Web sites of these companies."

A class-action lawsuit has been filed in New Jersey against Bullseye Media Inc., alleging, among other things, personal injury and deceptive business practices in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The suit is seeking a restraining order against the company and also punitive and compensatory damages.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that Bullseye fraudulently informed computer users and/or consumers via a "pop-up" ad, e-mail or Web sites that they had won free gifts and prizes including computers, flat-screen monitors, coffee makers and other items. However, when the computer users took steps to receive their free prize or gift, they were required to complete multiple "offers" which require several purchases and commitments. Often, the consumer is not advised that they have not really won the prize and that they have to complete the "offer" information to receive the prize they were told was free.

More specifically, the complaint alleges that consumers are required to participate in surveys to receive their free gift, yet the surveys require a purchase first. Even when this is completed, the consumer is advised that the status of their free gift is "pending."

In the newest e-mail focusing on getting a stimulus check, the part (Participation required. See below for details.) is the same as the age-old adage, "reading the fine print."

The "details" at the bottom of the Bullseye e-mail says: "To receive the reward you must, 1 — be a US resident at least 18 years of age or older, 2 — register with valid information, 3 — complete the following reward offers; 2 Silver offers, 2 Gold offers, and 6 Platinum offers (available reward offers will vary. Some reward offers require a purchase. Credit card offers may require you to activate the card by making a purchase, transferring a balance or taking a cash advance), 4 — refer one unique household that also completes the program requirements, and 5 — follow the redemption instructions and visit our website to read the complete Terms and Conditions."

According to the IRS Web site, as of Feb. 15, there will be no stimulus checks mailed to taxpayers. The plan calls for a reduction of income taxes withheld from each person's paycheck beginning, for many, this spring. The legislation will not have an impact on the vast majority of individuals preparing their 2008 tax returns due April 15. Instead, these changes will largely impact 2009 tax returns filed in 2010. Taxpayers should continue to prepare their 2008 tax returns as they normally would. According to the IRS, taxpayers will not get a separate check mailed to them like last year's stimulus payment.

"Unless an e-mail is actually from the IRS, it may be misleading," Montgomery said. "Many people will just scan across an e-mail and may believe it's legitimate. But usually, the IRS won't contact a person by e-mail. These e-mail scams usually target those who are financially distressed, and I hate to see people go though the stress of trying to recover from identity theft."

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Barbara Shaw
Schuler Bauer
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