Hold the phone: Stimulus scams going low-tech

New York State officials are warning consumers that attempts to rip off people with the lure of federal economic stimulus money has gone low-tech. Potential victims are now receiving phone calls, rather than the traditional e-mail seeking extensive personal information as well as money.

New York State Consumer Protection Board spokeswoman Deborah Sturm Rausch said her agency has received complaints from various parts of the state about the scam and believes the calls are being placed elsewhere in the country, as well. Another twist, she said, is that people in Spanish-speaking communities are being targeted.

Targets are told they can quickly get stimulus money by providing information including their name, address, bank statements, income tax filings, mortgage loan papers and their deed. They are then asked to pay an $850 installment of a more than $3,000 total bill to receive the stimulus money.

"Consumers should know that they do not need to pay for services to receive stimulus money for which they qualify," said Mindy A. Bockstein, who heads New York's Consumer Protection Board. "While legitimate companies can help people understand how the stimulus package works, scam artists are creatively using these incentives to lure those looking for help into providing personal identifiable information which they then use to drain bank accounts and disappear."

New York officials offer the following recommendation to help people avoid becoming victims:

  • Talk with your loan servicer or provider before taking any action.
  • Do not pay fees up-front.
  • Contact HOPE NOW, an alliance recommended by federal housing officials that works with people to help prevent foreclosures.
If you're already a victim, officials recommend you contact the three credit bureaus and place a fraud alert:
Also, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or online at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
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