Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Did you Get $5 in the Mail? From the Department of Transportation?

KEY WEST, Fla. - Imagine opening up an envelope and finding cold, hard cash inside. You'd think it was a scam too, wouldn't you?

Thousands of people are receiving $5 bills in a letter asking for personal information.

Key West, Florida resident Cory Held said she was surprised when she received the money.

"And it was this $5 bill," Held explained. "It just fell out!"

Held, a real estate agent, said the envelope containing the crisp $5 bill was addressed to "resident."

She said she was standing in her kitchen where she routinely opens the daily mail.

When she saw the money, she thought it was a scam.

The letter claimed to be from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The $5 was an incentive to take a call from an operator and to fill out a questionnaire for personal information about "driving habits," according to the letter.

"Oh my God," she said. "I suddenly went crazy."

Held said she was cautious because there are a lot of scams, but the letter was real.

The federal government is sending out 31,000 $5 bills randomly across America.

"It's not a scam," said Ian Grossman, an associate administrator with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Grossman argues that the $20 million survey, done every four years, helps determine a $40 billion budget.

He concedes that they have received some curious calls.

"Well, understandably it's the rare day when the government sends you money as opposed to asking for you to send them money," he said. "So I think that would raise some eyebrows."

Held said that when she learned it was not a scam, she was upset.

"I got even angrier because for the government to spend this kind of money on a mailer like this just infuriated me even more," she said.

She said she showed her co-workers.

"And how do I get one?" a co-worker asked.

"Maybe this is a new stimulus plan," another co-worker joked.

Held and others thought that given the economic crisis, the timing was poor.

Grossman disagreed.

"The reality is that participation has increased and we're getting the data we need to make decisions for America's transportation future." Grossman said.

After Held and her husband agreed to fill out the survey, which arrived priority mail with a $4.80 postmark, they each received $4 more, which was inside the envelope.


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