Better Business Bureau is warning the public to be extremely wary of companies that offer “free” advice on how to get government grants. Dozens of Web sites claim that, because of the recently passed stimulus package and other actions taken by President Obama, consumers can easily get government grants to pay bills or get out of debt. Contrary to such claims, the federal government does not award grants to help consumers pay general debt and complaints to BBB show that people who sought free advice were ultimately charged as much as $69.95 every month on their credit or debit card.
Immediately following the approval of the $787 billion stimulus package, Web searches for the word “stimulus” returned sponsored link sites like officialstimuluschecks.com and ObamaStimulusGrant.net, in addition to many news stories and Web pages discussing the bill. Ads for grant schemes used enticing testimonials such as, “I got my stimulus check in the mail in less than 30 days...”
“The stimulus package and other efforts on Capitol Hill to jumpstart the economy are dominating the headlines and unscrupulous businesses know that they can exploit the news to take advantage of financially desperate families,” said Robert Shomphe, BBB President/CEO. “These businesses are simply charging people for free information and chipping away at the bank accounts of families nationwide when they can least afford it.”
Ads have also popped up on one of the most popular Web sites on the Internet. In February, ads on Facebook directed the public to Web sites such as www.davidgetsgreen.com and www.jakecutler.com which were set up to look like blogs written by people who are sharing the secret of how they received $12,000 in grants from the government to pay off their debt.
These “blogs” lead to Web sites such as www.federalgovernmentgrantsolutions.com which prominently features a picture of President Obama and claims that “President Obama want [sic] to issue a STIMULUS PLAN for people in need of government aid and free federal money.” The Web site is for a company called Government Grant Solutions and is selling a Grant Program Kit which provides advice on how to apply for grants as well as access to a directory of Federal and private grants. The Web site includes “testimonials” from people who claim that they were able to obtain money which went toward staving off foreclosure, buying Christmas presents, fixing their car or paying bills.
BBB has received hundreds of complaints from consumers who went to Web sites such as www.federalgovernmentgrantsolutions.com that sold information on how to get grant money from the government. Two Las Vegas based companies, Grant Instructor and Raven Media, have set up dozens of Web sites and received 409 and 295 complaints respectively from consumers across the U.S. and both have earned an F grade from BBB. Another company based in Utah, Grant University, has received more than 300 complaints from across the country in the past year and has an F rating from BBB.
According to the BBB Serving Utah and the BBB Serving Las Vegas, complainants state that they ordered a “free” CD and were promptly charged as much as $69.95 on their credit or debit card. Some complainants also stated that their credit card was charged by other companies as well.
When complainants contacted the businesses about why they were being charged for a “free” item, they were told that they had actually signed up for a “free trial”—as explained in the terms and conditions on the Web site—and they needed to cancel within seven days of requesting the CD or they would be charged monthly.
Complainants also stated that they never received the “free” CD, received the CD after the free-trial had expired or were unable to log into the Web site to access grant information as promised. These companies fail to provide refunds and some complainants tried to contact the company to cancel the service but ultimately had to cancel their credit card to stop being billed as much as $69.95 every month.
Before paying any money for assistance in earning government grants, BBB offers the following advice: