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The bottom line: Don’t let an official-sounding name fool you, in letters, e-mails or phone calls. A bona fide government entity can easily be checked with an online search, and these copycats are likely to be scammers who ask for upfront fees for “free government money.” Or, like Acc-U-Lead, they may be businesses that make money from selling your personal information to others.

“We’ve sued lead-card companies numerous times, but we need consumers to file complaints with our office,” notes Tom Kelley of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. “And the same applies to residents of other states: Contact your attorney general if you receive them. It’s a cookie cutter scam; these companies try to trick people into thinking they’ll get some kind of special information. We urge people not to respond.”

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse offers tips on how to remove yourself from mailing lists. And the Federal Trade Commission offers advice on how to recognize phone scams that purport to offer grant money or other government incentives.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).

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