Stimulus Scams: Information from the FTC

I could have told you the minute the U.S. Government announced those $600/person stimulus checks back in 2007: somebody is going to find a way to turn this into a scam.

Boy, was I ever right.

Almost immediately, there was a spate of people using phone calls and email to trick people into revealing personal information. “You have to verify this information to get your check,” the messages said. Of course, if you were eligible for the rebate (i.e., if you had done your taxes for the previous year), the IRS already had this information. Identities were stolen and money was lost.

Then, in 2008, you started hearing about the Economic Stimulus Package. Again, I could have told you what was going to happen. I don’t want to come off as a curmudgeon with statements like, “People never pay any dang attention!” here, but the fact is that an awful lot of people don’t pay enough attention to certain things. They heard the word “stimulus” and immediately assumed that it meant, “I’m’onna get me another check in the mail.”

Once again, the phishing emails and phone calls appeared and a new group of people learned something the hard way. Never mind that, in this context, “Economic Stimulus Package” had nothing to do with rebate checks for individuals.

Well, it’s still happening. Now people are getting letters instructing people to submit personal information in order to access federal stimulus dollars. I hate to be redundant, but everyone needs to understand this: they’re not handing out pocket money to individuals, and there are no “programs” that can be loopholed into doing so. Anybody who contacts you about federal stimulus dollars, whether by mail, email, telephone, fax or two-cans-on-a-string, asking you to fill out forms or submit information of any kind, is attempting to commit fraud.

The FTC has a good article called “Seeing Through Stimulus Scams” that dates back to February 2009, but it’s still relevant reading. There’s also a short video at CNN featuring Clark Howard from just a couple days ago. Check them both out, and please don’t assume that every time the government says “stimulus” it means you’re getting a direct payment.

Fraudulent advertisements: anybody can do it!

Here is a list of things that literally anyone can do:

  1. Run an advertisement in the classified section of the newspaper
  2. Start a website
  3. Send an email message
  4. Tape a poster or sign to a telephone pole

This is an important fact to remember when you’re considering whether or not to call a phone number or give your name and other personal information out over the Internet.

I was reminded of this when I heard that the U.S. Postal Service jobs scam I wrote about just the other day had showed up in one of the newspapers here in Northwest Indiana. An employee here at REGIONAL called the number, just to see if it was the same rip-off I posted about. She told me, “The first thing out of her mouth was, ‘It’s $129.95. Will that be credit or debit?'”

There is no vetting process in the classifieds. Newspapers do not check out alleged businesses before running their ads. I could call them up right now and, as long as I paid for it, run an ad that said, “Build your own flying saucer out of household materials! Capable of inter-planetary travel. Seats 4 adults. Plans only $99.95” and they would run it (just like they would also run one that said, “Be a secret shopper! $483/day!”). They just don’t have the resources to verify the claims of every advertiser.

The Internet is the same way, only worse. Anybody can create a website, and make it look very slick and professional. There is absolutely no physical barrier to lying on a website, or setting up a fake business that just steals money or personal information.

Heck, I could say this site is “as seen on MSNBC,” even though it hasn’t been. Yet.

Actually, when you link to a article, as I’ve done a few times, a link to your article shows up at the bottom of their page in the “From the Blogs” section. So I could say the Fraud Prevention Unit is “as seen on CNN,” right?


Okay, fine. I’ll have to wait for my Larry King interview. Or maybe an hour-long special! Or…

Department of Veterans Affairs warns of scam targeting veterans

Well, this is just gross.

According to a warning released by the VA, scam artists have been targeting veterans over the telephone. They claim to be VA workers, telling victims that the VA has new procedures regarding prescriptions, and that they need the veterans’ credit card information.

Of course, the VA will never call veterals asking for credit card numbers or any other personal information.

It just illustrates the Number One Rule of Fraud Prevention:

Never give any personal information to an unsolicited caller, no matter who they claim to be.

If you have friends, family or neighbors who are veterans (especially elderly veterans), make sure they know about this scam, and that they know not to give out personal information.

The source for this post is “Scam targets veterans’ credit card info, VA warns,” published at on 9/18/09.