Older Americans who draw Social Security benefits are getting an extra $250 payment from the government. But if they fall for the latest Social Security scam, they stand to lose a lot more.

The $250 checks are part of the governments recently-passed economic stimulus program. Retirees are getting the extra payment to help cope with the economic downturn and, hopefully, spur the economy by making some extra purchases. About 52 million people are scheduled to receive the checks.

But the Social Security Administration is warning that scammers have been sending out spam email, promising urgent news about the stimulus payment.

If recipients click on the link in the email, they will go to a Web site that, in all appearances, looks like a government site. However, its really the scammers site, designed to elicit sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and date of birth.

With that information, scammers can clean out victims bank accounts or open new lines of credit in their names, without their knowledge.

AARP says some of the problem stems from the fact that the government has changed the way that retirees receive their stimulus money. Last year, only those people who filed a tax return received a rebate check. If Social Security recipients did not file a return, they didnt receive a payment.

This year you dont have to file a return to collect a check. The check will be sent automatically. Instead of coming from the IRS, the way it did last year, this years payment will come from the Social Security Administration. This change, AARP says, is part of the reason for the confusion.

Social Security recipients should be highly suspicious of anyone who claims they can help them secure their stimulus payment usually in exchange for a fee. The Social Security Administration says no assistance is necessary the check will be mailed directly to the consumer.