Beware of Requests for Personal Information
We recently received a fax purporting to come from the Internal Revenue Service (the USA's tax department) requesting that we complete "Form W-8BEN" and fax it back, in order to protect our exempt tax status.
We have many clients with investments in the US for whom we are the contact address for investment matters and we certainly don't want any of them to lose a tax exempt status so initially we took this request very seriously.
It was only when we looked closely that we started to think, "this looks odd". There were no contact details on the front page, it wasn't personally addressed and so we had no way of knowing who they were requesting information for and it had arrived by fax and the return fax number was an Australian number.
Further investigation revealed that it was a "Phishing Scam", they were trying to get personal information preumably to be used for nefarious purposes. A lot of personal information was requested, not only name and address, but also date of birth, bank account details and a copy of passport. Armed with this and the rest of the information requested it would be very easy for a "bad guy" to pretend to be the person concerned.
Phishing - also called 'carding' or 'brand spoofing' - is fishing by some method (like down the phone line or by email) trying to get your bank account numbers, passwords and credit card numbers.
If anyone is requesting your personal information make sure you check that the request is bona fide and that they are who they say they are. If you're not sure check online, try typing details of the request into Google search http://www.google.com, usually it comes up with innumerable sites informing you about the scam. If you don't find anything there and still aren't sure, ring the organisations head office. Don't just ring the number in the email or fax or letter, if it is a scam of course they'll put a bogus number and tell you that all is well if you ring it.
The Ministry of Commercial Affairs website http://www.consumeraffairs.govt.nz/scams/scam-types/banking-and-phishing-scams has more information to help you protect yourself.
- Last updated on .