The ink is barely dry on the huge economic stimulus package, and already scam artists are swooping in, promising they can get you some of the $787 billion.
On Wednesday the Federal Trade Commission revealed bogus Web sites, hoaxes and other scams that promise to help consumers tap into a chunk of the money.
"They're running ads all over the Internet, both on live streaming sites, through search engines, social networks," Eileen Harrington, acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said today on "Good Morning America."
Harrington called this "a particularly pernicious kind of scam" given the economic climate.
"Times are tough for a lot of people," she said. "This stimulus bill is intended to really get the economy moving again, not to be used as a vehicle for fraudsters to line their pockets. That is not what the bill's about."
Think you've been scammed? File a complaint or get free information on consumer issues at ftc.gov/complaint or call 877-FTC-Help (877-382-4357)
Received an email from someone claiming to be from the IRS asking for your personal information? Forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org and delete without opening attachments or clicking on links.
Scams to Watch Out For
"Congratulations, free money," some ads proclaim. Others pledge to inform consumers "how to get $12,000" in exchange for paying a small fee or revealing personal information like Social Security numbers and bank information that could compromise the security of their financial accounts. Many of the ads even include President Obama -- a move Harrington called a red flag.
"President Obama is not endorsing websites that ask you to send $1.99 or $3.99 to get information about how you can get part of the stimulus pie," Harrington said. "Not happening."
According to the FTC, the scam may tempt you in two forms.
You may be asked to enter personal information online, to open attachments or to click on links -- all of which could make you vulnerable to identity theft rather than help you access stimulus money. Others scams may ask you to pay a small fee, with your credit card, for more information about accessing government grants.
"You think you're getting free info about free government money," Harrington said. "Instead you wind up owing over $1,000 by being enrolled in some scheme that doesn't give you any money or grant or anything except heartache and headache."
Advice this morning from the FTC is to ignore online messages offering you stimulus money in exchange for personal information -- ignore it, delete it, throw it out.
Meantime, the FTC advises consumers to carefully monitor their credit card statements if they think they've been scammed.
It's not yet clear how many people have already been taken in, but in these tough economic times the lure of easy money may be hard to resist.
"We're in an economically challenging time, and really anyone I think who is feeling the pressure that the economic situation has brought on could fall victim to this," Harrington said.