Scam artists saw an opening and immediately began targeting consumers, including elders, to “help them qualify” for the payments. By email and on websites with official-sounding names, these criminals ask for payment or personal information including names, addresses, bank and credit card account numbers, etc. to do the paperwork for payment of the stimulus check.
These swindles are so widespread that the Federal Trade Commission, on 3 March, issued a warning which you can read at the FTC website.
Here is more information from that FTC warning:
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.
Do not get taken! If you are eligible for the Social Security stimulus payment, you do not have to do anything to to receive it. Social Security will automatically issue the $250 payment starting in May 2009. For more information about the one-time payment, check the Frequently Asked Questions page on the Social Security website.