Spams and Scams

While the U.S.'s new stimulus package may be ultimately aimed at creating jobs, scam artists are already hard at work thanks to the new law, according to a warning today from the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC said that fraudsters are using spam and deceptive Web sites to offer "help" in qualifying for aid through the stimulus package, which President Obama signed into law last month.

While that much is new, the rest of the scam is all too familiar: Victims who fall for the deceptive offer are charged a small fee, often $1.99. Once they fork over their bank account number -- ostensibly to receive funds from the stimulus package -- that account is then drained, the FTC said.

"Web sites may advertise that they can help you get money from the stimulus fund," Eileen Harrington, acting director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "Many use deceptive names or images of President Obama and Vice President Biden to suggest they are legitimate. They're not."

By asking for a small fee to ensure a windfall, the current scam takes an approach similar to the storied "419" or Nigerian con -- wherein a scammer claims to have millions they're trying to spirit out of their country, and they'll cut a victim in if they pony up a bit of cash to help the transaction along.

In reality, the reward never materializes, leaving victims without their initial outlay or, in some cases, having given the scammer access to their bank accounts.

Victims in the newest scam aren't only at risk of having their bank accounts emptied. If the scammers' e-mail or Web site collects a victim's credit card number, then that information is typically sold on to organized crime, FTC officials said.

The FTC also said that scammers have also been sending e-mails and creating Web pages with links that download malware or spyware capable of stealing victims' personal information.

The agency is urging victims to report any scams through the FTC's Complaint Assistant portion of its site or by calling the commission at 1-877-382-4357.

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