Watch Out for Stimulus Scams

If you see ads promising big stimulus-related checks that seem too good to be true, they probably are.

I’ve been seeing lots of ads suggesting that the government will be sending people big checks, usually of more than $12,000, as part of the stimulus plan. Is the Treasury Department really going to send checks of this size?


Nope. Scam artists miss no opportunity to take your money, and they started to devise stimulus-related schemes as soon as the law was passed in February. The Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau and Federal Bureau of Investigation are warning people about several types of scams related to the stimulus.

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The scam you mention usually involves an ad that says you can order a CD or access a special Web site that will show you how to get a $12,000 government grant -- if you make a small credit-card payment. But the fine print shows that you’re also signing up for recurring credit-card charges that can be tough to get out of. The BBB found that people who signed up for this advice were charged as much as $69.95 every month on their credit or debit cards. The BBB has already received hundreds of complaints about these Web sites.

In another scheme, which also surfaced when the first rebate checks were sent out last year, the crook sends an e-mail claiming to be from the IRS, warning that if you don’t respond promptly (often with your bank-account information), you’ll forfeit your stimulus money. The IRS does not contact taxpayers by e-mail and never asks for PINs, passwords, or secret access information for credit cards or bank accounts.

Just opening an attachment in one of these e-mails could infect your computer with a virus or malicious software. And if you click on a link in the message, you could be directed to a phishing Web site, which the crook sets up to look like a legitimate site (from the government, for example) created to collect personal information.

If you have received an e-mail like this, you can file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (opens in new tab) and the Federal Trade Commission (opens in new tab). For warnings about e-mail hoaxes and phishing scams, see the FBI’s Cyber Investigations Web site (opens in new tab). You can also check out companies and learn about recent scams at the Better Business Bureau's Web site (opens in new tab). Also see the IRS’s information about phishing and e-mail scams (opens in new tab).

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.