Government watchdogs say consumers are reporting a new version of the long-standing government impostor scam in which crooks pretend to be from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“According to reports, callers are telling people they’ve been selected to receive a $14,000 grant from NIH,” the Federal Trade Commission reported on its website. “To get it, though, callers tell people to pay a fee through an iTunes or Green Dot card, or by giving their bank account number.”
NIH does dispense grant money to researchers who apply for it to serve a public purpose. But Uncle Sam does not call people out of the blue to give them grants, and the money isn’t for personal use, officials say.
“If you get a call like this from someone asking you to pay money to get money, stop. Hang up the phone,” the FTC advises. “Also, the federal government will never call you, demanding that you give your personal or financial information — like your bank account or Social Security number.”
Red flags include requests for people to wire money or use prepaid cards to pay someone. The government does not ask people to pay in those ways.
Consumers who sent money to an NIH impostor are urged to get in touch immediately with whatever service they used to pay — a bank, MoneyGram, Western Union or iTunes — and to report the fraud to the FTC. “You might not get your money back, but you certainly won’t if you don’t report it,” the agency says.