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Howard County Warns Against Scam

Tax season brings a new round of scam e-mails containing bogus notices that claim to be from the Internal Revenue Service. That happened in Howard County recently, with some unintended results.

A smattering of county employees received e-mails at their offices alerting them that they had just a few days to claim their tax refund. They were to call a number at what was described as the IRS Tax Refund Department.
One of the employees who received the e-mail was Rebecca Bowman, an attorney and Howard's new administrator of the Office of Consumer Affairs.

When Bowman looked at the e-mail, she saw red flags all over the place.

"It's not the agency's way for the IRS or other government agencies to do business via e-mail," she said.

"Phishing" schemes involve e-mail that attempts to deceive recipients into divulging sensitive private information, such as Social Security numbers and credit card numbers. The information is used to raid the recipients' financial accounts.

Bowman googled the e-mail's listed phone number with the Arizona area code (602-427-5984), and sure enough, up popped a security blog report about a "new IRS refund scam." The practice apparently is so widespread that the genuine IRS lists information about phishing and e-mail scams on its Internet homepage (

Bowman alerted County Executive Ken Ulman (D), and on Wednesday (4/2), the county issued a press release about the scam. Ulman warned that more scams may follow, related to the federal government's economic stimulus payments.

It was helpful of the con artists to send their e-mail to Howard employees, said Bowman, "especially to someone in the Consumer Affairs office, to alert us it was out there. Obviously, these people aren't that clever."

--Susan DeFord

By Anne Bartlett  |  April 2, 2008; 3:14 PM ET
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