President Obama’s stimulus package may turn the economy around someday.
For now, it may be helping con artists get rich. Here's what you need to know to protect your money.
MainStreet hears that rogue phone solicitors are using the phrase "stimulus" and posing as an agency that will lower your credit card rate. All they need is your credit card information. Don't fall for it. Keep your information to yourself.
“We’ve heard that consumers are being told that, because of President Obama’s stimulus, the Better Business Bureau can get them a lower interest rate on their credit cards,” says Allison Southwick, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau. Southwick in fact says that her agency is not placing these calls and cannot lower consumer's credit card interest rates.
The Stimulus Stimulates Fraud
Stimulus scams aren’t limited to phone calls. Few outside of Washington, D.C., understand exactly how the stimulus plan works, but debt-laden consumers are looking for help anywhere they can find it.
“Criminals looking for instant credibility can use something like the stimulus package to their advantage,” says Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com, a non-profit that educates consumers. “As you get more debt, you tend to be more open to quick fixes.”
Online threats, exist too. According to the consumer protection site 411-Spyware.com, there's one official-looking scam site, ObamaStimulusProgram.com, that's scamming folks out of as much as $89 per month.
What is a consumer to do?
How to Protect Yourself
You may not have time to read the entire stimulus bill, but here are some easy tips that you can use to safeguard your identity, your credit and your money.
1. Be wary of who you give account information to. Credit card issuers such as Citigroup (Stock Quote: C), Chase (Stock Quote: JPM), Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC) and Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) are as concerned about keeping your account information a secret as you are, so you can rest assured that they will never ask for your account information by phone.
2. Compare the numbers. If you receive a call from someone asking for your account information it may be a good idea to write down their number and compare it with the customer service number on the back of your card. If they don’t match up, there’s a chance that the call could have come from a con artist.
3. Tell someone if you think that you've been targeted. Criminals rely on your silence to perpetrate their crimes. If you’ve received a call from someone asking for your account information, contact your local Better Business Bureau and your state's attorney general to tell them what happened. The bureau will not be able to go after the criminals, but the attorney general has the authority to prosecute them.
4. Find out how your card issuer deals with fraud. Even the most wary consumer can be an identity theft victim. Ask your issuer if they have a zero liability policy. This policy guarantees that you will not be held accountable for any fraudulent charges on your card. Just remember that you have to report the misuse of the card before you can take advantage of the policy.
5. Don’t believe everything you hear. Few people will turn down free money, especially if it sounds like it's coming from the government. Unfortunately, you’ll rarely, if ever, get something for nothing. If the voice on the other end of the line is telling you otherwise, there is a strong chance that there’s a catch somewhere.
“It’s always best to remember,” says Dr. Robert Manning, director of the Center for Consumer Financial Services. “If something is too good to be true, then it is.”