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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 from someone in your network claiming they’ve just received a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and you can too. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Scammers dangle the prospect of government largesse to trick people out of their money.
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. HHS offers financial assistance, but “the agency just doesn’t reach out, out of the blue,” says Scott Lampert, assistant inspector general for investigations at HHS’s Office of Inspector General. “Ant they’re certainly not going to reach out through social media, a phone call or personal text or email asking you to apply for a grant.”
How it works
HHS has seen an uptick in scammers hacking social media accounts, so victims will receive WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger messages from people who appear to be friends or family members. They claim they’ve received HHS money, and here’s how you can too.
They may direct you to a site that looks identical to a government website, or give you a phone number to call for more information about how to apply for funding. If you call, the agent may explain that you are eligible for, say, a $50,000 grant, but first you need to pay $3,000 — a “processing fee.”
- 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!”).
- You’re directed to an alleged government website whose URL ends in .org, .com, or .us. URLs for government sites always end in .org, says Lampert. “Otherwise, it’s fake.”