Stimulus Scams Continue

I just got a call, on my cell phone no less, telling me that I am required to visit a certain website to apply for my share of economic stimulus funds that will soon be available in my area. Needless to say I didn’t bother, it was an obvious scam, but with all those autodialers at the disposal of these criminals and hucksters, it occurred to me that calls like that are going out to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people and enough of them are gullible enough to take the bait. Then I read this on BusinessWeek.com:

My sons own and operate an architectural/engineering firm and a steel fabrication firm. These are Main Street firms, needing operating capital. What department of the stimulus package do they apply to for a loan?

The answer went through how this person’s sons can apply for SBA loans backed by stimulus funds and then went on to talk about the fraud arising from the stimulus program, saying in part that:

Hundreds of complaints have poured in to the BBB in the weeks since the stimulus package was passed, she says, most of them from people who responded to Internet ads leading to websites featuring "testimonials" from individuals claiming they got government money to start businesses or pay off bills. For a fee, many of the website pitches say, they'll send you a CD or a mail-order kit explaining how to have access to government stimulus money.

That sounds awfully similar to my phone call. What these places are selling is, essentially, free information. You don’t have to pay to learn about government grants or SBA loans, unless you sign-up with one of these outfits. What they are gathering is your identification and details about your finances and we know all too well what unscrupulous frauds like to do with that information.

What gets me, other than having to pay airtime to listen to some conman’s spiel, is how desperate we are today that the idea of Washington cutting us all stimulus checks is even something anyone would consider. Step back for a moment and think about this: When was the last time the federal government actually handed out money? The Bush Stimulus, right. Now, how much wailing and gnashing of teeth accompanied that thoughtful but largely impotent gesture? Right again, lots. It was all over the media and in the corridors of power—it’ll work, it will fail, too much, not enough—and the debate was loud and generally danced around the real issues: that people could decide what to spend their own money on and that it was really the people’s money that was being returned. As it turned out, the people like keeping more of their money and with it they will do what is in their own best interests. This was not good news for the Washington elite, so let’s not expect that experiment to be repeated anytime soon.

Of course, we have heard a lot of loud debate since Election Day, it is true, and the issues—the people keeping their money and doing what is in their own best interests—are the same as well. The difference is that this time the focus is on government and government action, not on the actions of individuals. Today, the economic stimulus is being allowed to trickle down to the people in the form of a generous $8 tax cut that may or may not last the year, payments for work on the so-called “shovel ready” projects, government programs of all sorts and funds to back business lending.

The Bottom Line

The lesson in all this is that if someone offers you something for nothing, offers to deliver free government money to you to ease your problems and make you and yours prosperous again, they are lying to you.

To get your hands on some stimulus money, you have to actually be part of something the government wants to fund. If you are not, then your only hope is an SBA loan. You can work for it, or you can borrow it. What you cannot expect to do is hold your hand out and receive it.