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Stimulus Fraud Coming to an Inbox Near You

You have seen them, those emails saying that you are owed a piece of President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package and that, for a small fee, the senders of said email will be happy to secure your money and send it right along to you. It is a lie.

Really, there is no other way to say it. Like all scam emails—the one where some bank needs to “verify” your information, or the one where the sweet dying old lady in Nigeria has picked you to inherit her fabulous wealth, etc.—it is a lie to hook the shady, or the desperate, and with the economy the way it is, there are plenty of both.

The FTC Statement

The Federal Trade Commission is working on this problem and has issued the following statement. Please read it carefully.

The FTC is warning consumers that they could get stung by an economic stimulus scam.  The scams come in different forms. 

Right now, on the Web and in e-mail, scammers are telling consumers they can help them qualify for a payment from President Obama's economic stimulus package.  All they have to do is provide a little information or a small payment.

E-mail messages may ask for bank account information so that the operators can deposit consumers' share of the stimulus directly into their bank account.  Instead, the scammers drain consumers' accounts of money and disappear.  Or bogus e-mail may appear to be from government agencies and ask for information to "verify" that you qualify for a payment.  The scammers use that information to commit identity theft.  Some e-mail scams don't ask for information, but provide links to find out how to qualify for funds.  By clicking on the links, consumers have downloaded malicious software or spyware that can be used to make them a victim of identity theft.

"Web sites may advertise that they can help you get money from the stimulus fund.  Many use deceptive names or images of  President Obama and Vice President Biden to suggest they are legitimate.  They're not," says Eileen Harrington, Acting Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.  "Don't fall for it.  If you do, you'll get scammed."

Some sites suggest that for a small sum of money - as little as $1.99 in some cases - consumers can get a list of economic stimulus grants they can apply for.  But two things can happen: the number of the credit card the consumer uses to pay the fee can fall into the hands of scam artists, or the $1.99 can be the down payment on a "negative option" agreement that may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars if the consumer does not cancel.

"Consumers who may already have fallen for these scams should carefully check their credit card bills for unauthorized charges and report the scam to the FTC," Harrington said. 

The Bottom Line

A bad economy always spurs fraud and thievery and in the end it is up to you not to fall for it. We all have to accept the fact that the stimulus money is not for individuals. It is for government agencies, state and local governments, organizations and projects. From there, it will trickle down to the people.

However, if you have fallen for this scam and want to file a complaint, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.