Watch Your (Ageist) Language
Advertising and Elders

Stimulus Scams

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (S. 1) – more commonly known as the Stimulus Bill (full text here) - became law when President Obama signed it on 17 February. Among the provisions of interest to elders is a one-time payment of $250 to those who receive Social Security benefits.

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 the real deal on the $250 payment:

  • Everyone who receives Social Security and/or SSI benefits will receive the one-time $250 payment

  • You do not need to do anything to receive the payment

  • If your Social Security or SSI benefit is paid by check, you will receive the stimulus payment by check separate from your regular monthly benefit

  • If your Social Security or SSI benefit is a direct deposit to your bank account, you will receive the payment in that manner

  • If both you and your spouse receive Social Security benefits, you will each receive a $250 payment

  • No schedule has been published for distribution of the checks, but the Social Security Administration has announced that all checks will be delivered by the first week of June

  • The payment is tax-free, no matter what your income is, and you are not required to report it on next year's tax return

  • The payment is in addition to your normal Social Security/SSI benefit and will not affect those benefits

You can find more information in a special section at the Social Security website.

Other scams include offerings to obtain government grants under the stimulus package. The Los Angeles Times published an informative story about them on Tuesday.

It is hard to fathom what kind of people these scam artists are. Aside from the psychology and morality, imagine the thinking that goes into it: “I'll tell people they won't get their stimulus payment unless they apply for it. I'll make it sound so difficult that they will pay me to do it for them. And they're so stupid that they will give me their credit card and bank account numbers that I can then rob.”

Maybe some are that stupid. Or maybe some are alone, worried, mentally confused or don't have the skills to find the facts on their own. Whatever the reasons for falling for a scam, the punishment should be far worse than it probably is, even if the swindlers can be found, because to cheat the vulnerable is reprehensible.

Although $250 doesn't sound like much these days, for people at the low end of the Social Security benefit scale, it makes a big difference. And as one at the other end of the scale, I could get by without it, but it still not chump change.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Carol Gardner is talking about jobs and dreams in Flippin' the Bird.]

Comments

Just like the Los Angeles Times story states, the latest stimulus package was not even voted on before I started receiving scam emails. They offered to get me "my share" of the stimulus for a fee, and I suppose (I never followed one up) my credit card and bank account numbers as well. I don't know it for a fact, but I would not be surprised if there weren't a snail-mail campaigns, as well.

The people who run these scams ought to be consigned to the lowest pits of hell. Dante, where are you when we need you?

But the more relevant thing that we need to do is to try to educate our friends and associates about scams of this sort. Many, many people will be fooled by official-looking emails and letters, especially when they warn of losing money, getting into trouble, or of daunting paperwork. These scams thrive on the ill-informed, the confused, and those intimidated by officialdom.

It is our duty to try to inform our friends -- and not all of them will be elders -- about these and similar scams.

The National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare has an article on their site about the stimulus payment and people who collect Social Security but are still working. Click here to read.

According to the article, eligible working people will get a tax credit (possibly as much as $400), but one can't take advantage of both the tax credit and the $250 payment that will automatically be sent out to Social Security recipients. An adjustment in withholding by your employer will eliminate the "double dipping."

I was not familiar with this provision until I read the article, so if anyone else has information, it would be helpful to post it here.

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