FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER
En español | It might start with a phone call from the "Federal Grants Administration" (which doesn’t exist) bringing news that you’re eligible for a lucrative grant the government is providing to help people just like you. Perhaps you spotted a website or social media post promising "free money from the government," or received an instant message from someone who claims she was just awarded thousands of dollars in federal funding and provides a number you can call to get your share.
If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The federal government awards billions of dollars a year to organizations and institutions for all sorts of programs, projects and research, but it does not give grants to individuals to pay their bills or start a business.
Scammers dangle the prospect of government largesse to trick people out of their money. If you respond to the pitch, they'll ask you to send a money order, make a wire transfer, or provide credit card or bank account information to cover processing fees for the grant. They may also say they need your Social Security number to verify your identification.
Once they collect that first payment, the thieves may ask for additional fees — but the promised grant never materializes. Worse yet, they now have the personal and financial information they need for identity theft. (The same goes for a cousin of the grant scam, in which the crooks claim the government is holding valuable unclaimed property of yours that you can obtain if you pay a fee or provide personal info.)
Social media has become the most common way government grant scammers scout for victims, according to the Better Business Bureau's 2019 Scam Tracker Risk Report. Here are some tips on how to avoid being taken.
- A supposed government official calls you out of the blue to say you’re eligible for a grant. The government only contacts people about grants if they’ve filed an application, according to Grants.gov, the official website for federal grant information.
- You're asked to pay a fee. There is never any charge to apply for or increase your chances of getting a federal grant.
- The grant offer is presented as something secret or exclusive ("You can't get this information anywhere else!").
- A website, email or social media post claims you’re eligible for a government grant to spend any way you choose. There are benefit programs to help people pay for food, housing, health care and other living expenses but no such grant programs.
- Do be wary of classified ads that tout “free grants” and provide a toll-free number to call. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that scam artists use such ads to entice potential victims.
- Do unfriend and block any social media user who sends you an unsolicited message about a government grant, and report it to the social media platform. Even if the message appears to come from someone you know, the Better Business Bureau notes, that person’s account may have been hacked or their profile cloned.
- If you live in an area that’s been hit by a natural disaster, do watch out for scammers who claim to represent the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the Small Business Administration (SBA). FEMA says actual government workers wear ID badges and will never ask a disaster victim to pay a fee for federal aid.
- Don’t assume a Washington, D.C., number on your caller ID means a grant offer is on the level. Scammers use technological trickery to hide their actual location.
- Don’t give your Social Security number or banking information over the phone to anyone you don’t know.
- Don’t believe a caller who claims you can apply for the grant over the phone. Legitimate government grant programs require you to fill out and submit an application.
- Don’t pay a fee to a company that says it will help you find grants. You can check directly with government agencies about grant opportunities, for free.
- Don’t respond to letters or emails about unclaimed property that request fees or personal information. If you receive information about unclaimed property in your name, check it with your state property agency. You can also search the free "Missing Money" database maintained by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.
- If you think you’ve been the victim of a government grant scam, notify the Federal Trade Commission. You can file a complaint online or by phone at 877-382-4357.
- If scammers contact you online about a grant offer, file a report with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- You also can report grant-related scam attempts to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Fraud Hotline at 800-447-8477.
Updated July 27, 2020
About the Fraud Watch Network
Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.
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