FTC: Latest Scam - "Free Money from the Government"
Con artists have no qualms about taking advantage of people during hard times. You may have heard or seen ads that promise the government has free money to help you pay your bills, but the Federal Trade Commission warns consumers that it is a scam:
"There is currently money available NOW right here in your area, to help pay your bills."
"NO lines, NO waiting, NO credit needed. This is YOUR money and will be sent back to the federal government if not used in your area."
The scammers may contact you through ads, websites, phone calls, text messages or even with personal visits from salespeople. Their tactic, the FTC said, “is to use half-truths to draw people in” and cause confusion between authentic public assistance programs to help people in need and this fraudulent scheme.
They may claim the so-called government program can help you pay everything from your utilities, cable, and cell phones to your mortgage, student loans, and insurance premiums.
The salespeople are scam artists and there is no federal bank account set up to pay your bills, warns the FTC.
If you respond to the con artist’s sales pitch, they will charge a “processing fee” and take your personal information such as name, social security number, credit card or bank account number, and other personal information that can leave you open to identity theft.
Then they will give you instructions on how to use bank account and routing numbers to pay your bills online, or print checks to pay in person or send in the mail. At first it will look like your bills are paid and you’re home free, but once you’re notified that you’re payments have been rejected you’ll realize that something is wrong.
“The damage doesn't stop there,” said the FTC. “Not only do you still owe the money, but you're out the "fee" you paid the scam artist, you're at risk for identity theft, and you could be fined or even arrested for passing bad checks or trying to use a bank account that doesn't belong to you.”
The FTC advises that if you see a pitch for this scam, share it with your local police department, Better Business Bureau, state Attorney General's office, and the FTC. If you followed the scammer's instructions, contact your creditors immediately.
A review of your credit report is also a good idea. You can obtain your credit report for free from each of the three major credit bureaus through www.annualcreditreport.com - the only government-authorized site to provide you with your free annual credit report as provided by law. Check your credit report at least once a year to catch identity theft and ensure your credit report contains accurate information.
Federal Trade Commission