Stimulus Plan Scams and Frauds

Defrauding the Government While It Resuscitates the Down Economy

What portion of the massive government stimulus plan will be stolen by crooks? Unfortunately, we anticipate exponential growth in stimulus money scams. The government's pocket -- your pocket -- is about to be picked!

The stimulus plan is sure to create jobs in one so-called industry.

That's because, without a doubt, scamming will be a growth industry once the stimulus bill is passed.

Whenever you have a big pool of money, the world's scam artists and con men will get there faster than anybody else.

Take the proposed introduction to the stimulus plan of a $15,000 credit to anybody who buys a new house.

We're not sure of the details on the plan, but here's an obvious scam.

You buy my house for $150,000 and I buy your house for $150,000.

We both get $15,000 from the government.

Some time later, we reverse the transaction. Again, we each get $15,000. Maybe three of us conspire to work together, so there are no related-party transactions that might disqualify us from getting the government cash.

There are some transaction costs involved in this scam and some tax implications, but you get the idea.

Scammers always think creatively, whether they are run-of-the-mill thugs or upper-echelon, white collar tax advisors. They will find ways to fraudulently steal the stimulus money.

Legislators, on the other hand, don't necessarily think in a way that protects us against scammers. "Us" is the operative word here - this is our money, after all, paid via our taxes.

The legislators are acting under pressure. They are rushing to get the stimulus plan done. Do you really think they can think through all the possible ways that the creative scammers of the world will attempt to rob money from that $900-billion pile of money?

They certainly didn't have the good sense to protect the TARP funds being doled out to bank execs for large bonuses, corporate slush funds for parties and spa visits, and private jets. What were they thinking? Obviously, they were NOT thinking.

When there is government money, thieves will come.

I think back to an SBA fraud that I read about. As you probably know, SBA loans are a great program, in which the government guarantees the loans. Needless to say, a crooked banker conspired to lend money via SBA loans to some bogus companies. The money was spent on everything but the businesses and we the people ended up footing the bill.

I also worked for some time with a firm that develops software for detecting fraud in the unemployment insurance agency. I learned about at least 20 different ways that scammers defraud state workforce agencies by getting unemployment benefits they don't deserve. The key takeaway is that fraudsters are highly creative...and they have evolved to be very sophisticated over time.

Do we really think the government can stop the scammers from robbing a good portion of that $800 billion stimulus plan? Seriously, the SEC could not even catch Madoff's Ponzi scheme when it was put right in front of their nose by a whistleblower.

The government agencies that could catch stimulus plan fraud are generally understaffed. That makes it hard for them to monitor for fraud and catch the thieves. Moreover, the government agencies to do not have enough money to invest in anti-fraud personnel and technology. They are fighting against a large army of thieves and the agencies have only a few soldiers armed with cap guns.

The media, historically a powerful watchdog in the fight against fraud, is not in a strong position to catch fraudsters at this time. The media industry has been hit hard by the downturn so many of the best investigative reporters out there are in no position to do their best work and find the jerks who are cheating the system.

So what should be done?

First and foremost, take some of those billions of dollars of the stimulus plan and explicitly dedicate those dollars to fighting stimulus plan fraud. This investment in stimulus plan integrity will have a very high ROI. A small investment in anti-fraud software and personnel typically will have a 5X or more return on investment over a very short time period.

Second and finally, scammers, please do us a favor. Once you rob our pockets, please do the best to put the money into circulation as fast as possible. Don't put it in a Swiss Account and just collect the interest.

This is a time where all of us must do some serious rowing and take on responsibility to improve the economy...that's true even for thugs like you.

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What portion of stimulus money do you think will be stolen or embezzled by crooks? What should be done to minimize stimulus plan fraud? We welcome your comments.

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