It all started as a friendly Facebook message from a friend - or so she thought. $70,000 later, a Middlefield woman has learned she was the victim of a clever grant scam. The “friend” claimed she had received money from a government grant that she found out about on Facebook. The “friend” directed her to an individual whose Facebook page said “Official Agent” and included a graphic for “Grants” (see image).
The Middlefield consumer reached out to him and was told she could receive a tax free grant from the “2015-2016 Federal Government Grant Money Program.”
She thought she was going to receive a $300,000 government grant. In October, communications switched from Facebook to email when she was contacted by someone who provided the address for Atlanta-based, Suntrust Bank. Discussions included mention of the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund but ultimately involved the payment of multiple fees to obtain the grant. Over the course of several months the woman wire-transferred additional funds to a bank account in Houston (TX), Columbus (OH) and Bolivar (MO). On two occasions she was told to mail cash to an address in Lucasville, Ohio.
The woman never received the grant and told BBB that she continues to get calls from the scammers and requests for more money. In February, she filed a report at bbb.org/scamtracker and shared her story with us.
These scams are ongoing so it’s wise to be vigilant. The typical grant scammer uses a well-rehearsed script congratulating you on your good fortune and quickly asks for your checking account information to cover a fee before depositing the money into your account. Despite their assurances, don’t believe it. There is no grant and they’ll be gone once they realize you are on to the scam. You'll never see the grant money.
Following a few basic rules can keep consumers from losing money to these "government grant" scams:
Don't give your bank account information to anyone you don't know - Scammers pressure people to divulge their bank account information so that they can steal the money in the account. Always keep your bank account information confidential. Don't share it unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.
Don't pay any money for a "free" government grant - If you have to pay money to claim a "free" government grant, it isn't really free. A real government agency won't ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant you have 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 at any public library or on the Internet. The only official access point for all federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov.
Look-alikes aren't the real thing - Just because the caller says he's from the "Federal Grants Administration" doesn't mean that he is. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check out the agency to determine its legitimacy.
Facebook “friends” - If you receive a friend request from someone who is already a friend on Facebook, do not respond to it. You can delete it and warn your friend that their Facebook profile has been hacked.
Phone numbers can deceive - Some con artists use Internet technology to disguise their area code in caller ID systems. Although it may look like they're calling from Washington DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
Take control of the calls you receive - If you want to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive, place your telephone number on the National Do Not Call Registry.
File a complaint with the FTC - If you think you may have been a victim of a government grant scam, file a complaint with the FTC online - www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov - or call toll-free, 877-382-4375. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Contact BBB - online at bbb.org/Cleveland - or by phone - 216-241-7678