The other day, an Idahoan got a request on social media from his “sister.” The name and picture were correct. Thinking his siter was just opening a new account, the man accepted.
Soon after, his sister asked if he had heard the good news: She had received a check for $60,000 through a tax-free grant that she would not have to repay.
The man became suspicious and asked if the check had cleared the bank. Sister said yes and offered to help him get the same grant. She provided a name and phone number to submit a text-message application. The man sent the message. Soon the scammers were asking for personal information and fees to process the application.
At this point, he was sure it was a scam and called his real sister, who confirmed that she had no idea what was going on and had never spoken to anyone about a grant. That’s when the pair reported the experience to the Better Business Bureau via BBB Scam Tracker.
This is the classic government grant scam, and it is one BBB sees reported in waves. Scammers contact their victims via social media, email, phone calls or text messages, saying there is money available to help them pay for school, start a business, do home repairs or do just about anything else. After you’ve begun the application “process,” the scammer requests money.
One victim reported to BBB that he had to pay $700 via Money Gram to pay for insurance for the check delivery. Then, there was supposedly an accident, and he needed to pay $480 for a new driver and delivery truck. Another victim reported needing to pay taxes on the grant. Another had to pony up processing fees.
BBB offers several tips to avoid falling victim to a grant scam:
▪ The government typically doesn’t call, text or email. Government agencies normally communicate through the mail, so be very cautious of any unsolicited calls, text messages or emails you receive.
▪ Don’t pay for a “free” government grant. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant that you’ve already been awarded — or to pay for a list of grant-making institutions. The names of agencies and foundations that award grants are available for free. The only official access point for federal grant-making agencies is http://www.grants.gov/.
▪ Guard your money. Paying “fees” to claim your grant via wire transfer or prepaid gift card is a red flag. These methods are as untraceable as cash, so your money will be gone for good.
▪ Be careful with friend requests from strangers. Keep your social networking friends to folks you have a real-world connection to, and if you think you are already friends with them, verify. Scammers regularly impersonate real people on social media.
▪ Be careful with unusual messages from real friends. It’s possible they’ve been hacked. Take the time to contact them offline and let them know.
Just because a caller or sender says he is from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that he is. There’s no such agency. Take a moment to check out these sorts of claims through online research or through the BBB. Be aware that websites and email addresses are easily spoofed and faked.
Emily Valla, firstname.lastname@example.org, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to www.bbb.org or call (208) 342-4649.