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Treasury Secretary, Federal Reserve Chair impersonators are phishing for identity theft data

Most of us can use some extra cash. That's particularly true during the holiday shopping season.

But unfortunately, recent emails I got from two federal financial officials offering unexpected windfalls are fake.

Phishing scam hook keyboard

Worse, the messages from Jacob Lew and Janet Yellen are identity theft phishing scams.

ID theft impersonation scams: I know most of the ol' blog's loyal readers recognize this duo as, respectively, the U.S. Treasury Secretary and the Chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, popularly known as the Fed.

As flattered as I might be to learn that Lew and Yellen follow my financial writings, I was immediately skeptical that they were reaching out to me personally. My suspicion that the emails were fake was confirmed the minute I opened them and saw that Jack and Janet were promising me millions of dollars.

The country's top money man purportedly had $1.5 million waiting for me. The woman who, among many other things, sets the nation's interest rate (she and her colleagues bumped it up a quarter of a percentage point this week) was more generous; she wanted to give me $4.7 million.

Of course, to get this massive amount of money, both Jack and Janet needed a few things from me. Specifically, they wanted some personal information.

As you can see in the email from Yellen, she listed what she wanted from me. Once I sent her my full name(s), home address and the county it's in, phone number, age and occupation she'd get the money ball rolling.

Janet Yellen scam email pt1
Janet Yellen scam email pt2

Lew wasn't as specific in his message. Rather, he wanted me to contact him, either by phone or at the Gmail address "treasuryofficeusa009."

Am I the only person who missed Treasury's conversion to Google mail? Or is Lew using one of those private servers we heard so much about during the presidential election?

Jack Lew scam email

The fake Lew also gave me the option to text him if he didn't pick up when I called because, he said, he "may be busy with meetings."

Yes, I imagine being the fake Treasury Secretary is a time-consuming job, one that the impersonator has been doing for years. About this time in 2014, I got a phishing email from the fake Jack Lew who back then was offering me a mere $500,000.

Classic ID theft angles: You and I tend to stay on top of tax and financial happenings so we can roll our eyes and laugh about these sloppy attempts by crooks trying to gather information that could help them steal our identities and money.

Folks who don't follow tax or monetary moves on a daily basis, however, might not know who Lew and Yellen are and might be fooled by the real titles into thinking it's worth connecting.

The crooks already have taken the first important step. They sent the messages to a valid email address. If you acknowledge that, then they know they have one key piece of info about you.

Scammers purporting to be Yellen are quite direct in their effort to gather even more personal information that could help them hack financial accounts. They've likely already got some personal details shared on Facebook, Instagram and the many other social media outlets.

By gathering these pieces, they can put together an identity theft jigsaw puzzle that will make it easier to correctly answer personal security questions at real sites that lead to your legitimate accounts.

In the fake Lew email, replying electronically could be a way for the tax identity thieves to load malware onto our computers and digital devices so they could steal any financial account access info stored there.

If you call back rather than email or text, the con artist answering (if he's not in meetings) will no doubt try to wheedle some more info from you (unless you take the crook to task like one angry and savvy phone scam target did).

Don't be a victim: While I doubt anyone would believe that either purported government official would be offering millions of dollars to random citizens, I remember that too many folks fell for those Nigerian prince emails years ago.

And this latest round of phishing emails apparently is working at least somewhat or the crooks wouldn't be bothering to send them.

If you, too, happen to be in the Lew and/or Yellen impersonators' email contact lists, ignore these messages.

You also should follow the recommendations of the Internal Revenue Service and its Security Summit partners, who earlier this month wrapped up the inaugural National Tax Security Awareness Week.

As the IRS says and these mailings prove, identity theft scams happen year round.

IRS and other government official impersonation scams also take every imaginable form. They are conducted by phone, email, postal mail and text.

And criminals are using more and more creative ploys to trick taxpayers and tax preparers.

From a strictly tax standpoint, remember that the IRS doesn't initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information. In addition, the IRS doesn't threaten taxpayers with lawsuits, imprisonment or other enforcement action.

When this happens, it's a sure sign that you're a phishing or tax scam target.

Finally, remember this age-old but still valid piece of advice: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

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