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Government Grant Scams


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.”

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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.”

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

Warning signs​

  • 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.”​

How to protect yourself from this scam​

  • 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.​
  • Ignore 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, 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.​
  • Never 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. ​​
  • 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.​
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More resources​

  • If you think you’ve been the victim of a government grant scam, notify the FTC. 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 or at Tips.hhs.gov.​

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