Federal stimulus funds spawn online, e-mail scams

The Miami HeraldMarch 11, 2009 

When President Barack Obama said earlier this year that he wanted to put money into the pockets of the American people, he had something specific in mind: the $787 billion federal stimulus package.

Now, consumer advocates are warning that scam artists hoping to fill their own pockets are using e-mail messages and Internet ads that say they can help people access a share of the stimulus money for as little as $1.99 upfront.

The cheap offers – which require hopeful buyers to provide credit card information and other identifying details – could turn into cases of identity theft or monthly fees sometimes defined in the ads' fine print. Some e-mail offers say recipients have already earned a grant, but bank account information is needed to deposit the award.

While the stimulus package was meant to create jobs and increase the amount of unemployment checks, said Liz Compton, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, nothing in the federal law says there are stimulus checks or stimulus grants available to individuals.

"You're not going to get stimulus money on the Internet," Compton said Tuesday. Simply clicking on one of the sites could trigger the download of spyware or other malicious software, she said.

The state's warning follows one by the Federal Trade Commission last week. One site the federal government denounced was jessicasmoneyblog.com – which has since gone inactive.

But at mygovtstimulus.com, which bears the headline Jessica's Money Blog, a sympathetic-looking single mother writes about how she got a $12,000 stimulus check that she used to start an online business that earns $7,500 a month. The site, complete with testimonials, offers a grant kit for just $1.99.

Other sites or ads – including some Facebook agreed to take down – are decorated with photos of Obama, American flags and the logos of major television news outlets.

To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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