- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

The federal agency that regulates national banks has issued a nationwide alert about a scam in which bank account holders receive fake letters and tax forms seeking to obtain personal financial information for the purpose of identity theft.
Here's how the scam works: An account holder receives a letter on bank stationery requesting information for the purpose of reporting earnings to the Internal Revenue Service. Attached to the letter is a fake IRS form identified as W-9095.
The phony document is based on a valid IRS form called a W-9. Banks often ask customers to complete a W-9 so that they can cross -check reported earnings after a consumer files his taxes.
The W-9 doesn't ask for account numbers. But the bogus form does. It also asks for marital status, place of birth, parents' names, account number, passport information, work history and passwords.
"Of all the fraud I've seen, this one is really dangerous and very clever," said David Glaser, executive vice president of the Adams National Bank in the District.
"Because you open the form and you think, 'By golly, it looks just like a W-9 form.'"
Personal financial information is what scams typically ask for, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency warns that it gives the perpetrator "all the necessary customer information to appear credible."
The OCC recommends that account holders file a report with the police. A copy of the report could be useful later if the bank or credit-card company needs proof of the crime.
"The problem with scams like this is that consumers rarely know they've been had until it's done," said Betsy Broder, assistant director for planning and information with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
"Consumers have no reason to believe they haven't been dealing with the IRS because they haven't seen any damage or misuse with their information."
The IRS has not received any consumer complaints regarding the scam, said Sam Serio, a Washington region spokesman for the agency.
He advised consumers who receive any questionable documents to call the IRS to verify the forms' origin.
"You don't want to give personal information, particularly personal financial information, to anyone unless you're positive who it is and what it's for," Mr. Serio said.
The FTC received more than 85,000 complaints about identity theft last year, and most of them didn't know how their personal data had been compromised, Ms. Broder said.

"Let's assume the damage is done and someone has collected your personal information with the intent of misuse," she said. "It's typically to open credit accounts in the victim's name. So they won't be aware of it until they start getting bills on this fraudulent account ."
What distinguishes the tax-form scam is that the documents are realistic and it doesn't offer a reward. Scams typically hook consumers by offering them something for free or at a discount.

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