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Generations: Crooks lurking to nab stimulus money

Older adults waiting for $250 stimulus checks from Uncle Sam this month are warned about scammers lurking on the Internet and on the other end of telephone line.

Perpetrators of fraud and theft of the stimulus checks have been reported by federal agencies, and all eligible older consumers should be vigilant.

Unlike last year, when all consumers had to file a federal income tax return to receive stimulus checks, recipients this year get their money automatically.

About $13 billion in payments to nearly 55 million eligible people on Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, railroad retirement or veterans disability began going out May 7 and should continue through the end of the month.

The money will be delivered the same way as current benefits, such as through direct deposit to a checking account or via debit card or paper check.

Crooks have been sending official-looking e-mails asking for bank account numbers, trying to persuade people the information is needed so that stimulus checks can be directly deposited into bank accounts.

Instead, the scammers drain the accounts and disappear, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Other bogus e-mails purporting to be from government agencies ask for personal information to “verify” that the recipient qualifies for a payment.

In another variation, e-mails provide links to Web sites on the premise that people can find out if they qualify for the money.

But by clicking on the links, consumers download malicious software or spyware that steals personal information used for identity theft, the FTC said.

Scammers also have been working the phones, trying to snag bank account numbers or personal information by claiming it is needed for direct deposit of stimulus checks or to verify future entitlement to Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.

Callers sometimes get hostile or call repeatedly if individuals refuse to divulge the information, the agency said.

In another ploy, Web sites also have been claiming that for a small fee they can help consumers apply for money from the stimulus fund.

Be suspicious of anyone who tries to collect a fee for filing a claim for stimulus money, the FTC said.

Remember, eligible recipients do not need to sign up anywhere or do anything to get the money.

And the Social Security Administration does not have to contact anyone for information.

Working seniors aren’t eligible for the $250 because they are getting stimulus money through reduced paycheck withholding throughout the year.

People who have not received their $250 by June 4 should contact the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.

The payments are not taxable as income and will be sent separately from current Social Security benefits.

To report suspected fraud, contact the FTC at 877-382-4357 or use the online complaint assistant at ftc.gov.

For the Social Security Administration’s fraud hot line, call 800-269-0271 or visit socialsecurity.gov/oig/hotline.

Today’s information is provided by Adina Wingate, PCOA’s public relations director, using approved information from the Federal Trade Commission and Social Security Administration information about fraud. Visit online at www.pcoa.org

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