A reader: I received a call from what I think might be a scam. This woman called and offered me a government grant. She said it was tax-free. She said I could get $5,000 or more. Is this true?
Action Line: A government grant is an award of financial assistance from a federal government agency to a recipient to carry out a public purpose authorized by a law of the United States. If you have been solicited to get a “free grant” to pay for home repairs, college or unpaid bills it usually is a scam. Another offer you might get is a phone call from a “government agency” wanting you to apply for a grant and pay a fee. No matter where the offers come from they usually are scams.
The Federal Trade Commission says following a few basic rules can keep consumers from losing money to these “government grant” scams:
▪ Don’t give out 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 that you already have 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 is from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that he is. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check the blue pages in your telephone directory to bear out your hunch – or not.
▪ 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, D.C., 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. To register online, visit donotcall.gov. To register by phone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number you wish to register.
▪ File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. If you think you may have been a victim of a government grant scam, file a complaint with the FTC online, or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. 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.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.