A Heartland woman reported to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Nebraska, South Dakota, The Kansas Plains and Southwest Iowa that she had been contacted on Facebook by a hacker posing as a current “friend” who shared information about a grant for $100,000 from the federal government. This “friend” messaged her that he had received this grant, and that the woman also qualified because she was disabled. The message included the email of the person she was to get in touch with.
When she responded, the woman was told that she had to send $2,250 for a processing fee in order to receive the grant. She took out a title loan and borrowed money from friends in order to make the payment. After wiring the money, she was emailed again. This time she was asked to send an additional $3,500. Now suspicious that she had been scammed and not having any more money to send, she contacted the BBB.
“Scammers love to use social networking sites because messages are perceived to be friendlier and more down-to-earth than requests via email,” explained BBB President and CEO Jim Hegarty. “In the end it doesn’t matter what method is used to make contact; you never pay money for a ‘free’ government grant and the U.S. Government doesn’t contact citizens through Facebook for this purpose.”
Here are some BBB tips on avoiding this and other similar online scams:
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. 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’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 at any public library or online. The only official access point for federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov.
Be careful with friend requests from strangers. We all want to have new friends, but try to keep your social networking friends to people you have a real-world connection to. If it appears the request is from a business contact or a friend of a friend, send them a message after accepting to see who they really are. If they are not connected to you, then “unfriend” them.
Don’t blindly trust your current Facebook friends. You may receive a message from someone you have known all your life. That doesn’t mean you must unequivocally trust them. If the message seems out-of-character, their account may have been hacked or cloned. Contact them offline and let them know.
Look-alikes aren’t the real thing. Just because the messenger says they are from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that they are. There’s no such agency. Take a moment to check the alleged agency out. Be aware that websites are easily spoofed and faked. Real U.S. Government websites always end in “.gov.”
Don’t give out your bank account information to strangers. Scammers pressure people so that they can steal the money in the account. Always keep your bank account information confidential. Never give this information out in a Facebook message.
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, or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), TTY at 1-866-653-4261.
File a complaint with Internet Crime Center (IC3). If you have been a victim of a scam that was perpetrated online or if you want to file on behalf of another person you believe has been a victim, file a complaint at ic3.gov.