NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB)
A telemarketing fraud known as a government “grant scam” is catching thousands of Americans in its tangled web, and the victims can be individual consumers, groups, or even business owners.
Antonio Wood answered once of those calls at his Niagara Falls home, and the caller told him he qualified for a $14,000 government grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but the telemarketers were not from the NIH.
“I said what is this, is this a loan? She said no sir, the government is giving it to you because you have not filed bankruptcy, and you are off the radar.” But to get the money Antonio would have to pay a $200 “registration fee’ with a gift card.
Wood scratched off the PIN on the back, called in the number to an NIH imposter that he got from a fake NIH website on his smartphone, but they wanted more money, which Antonio did not have.
Fortunately, the cashier at the convenience store where Wood was buying the gift cards broke the bad news, he was being scammed.
“She said I am not telling you what to do with your money sir, but I think you are being scammed,” she told him. “I told her I am getting this money. She said no you are not.”
The government does offer grants, which you don’t pay for directly, according to Melanie McGovern of the Better Business Bureau, but first, you have to apply for it.
“A grant is a long tedious process with tons of paperwork. So those are always the red flags. They are not going to reach out to you and say you won this, they don’t take alternate forms of payment. If you want a grant you have to fill out a ton of paperwork to get it.”
The application process is so complicated applicants generally hire a trained grant writer to fill out the paperwork.
Last year a career con artist exploited the grant writing profession and scammed several Buffalo churches into hiring her to write grants but she was subsequently convicted of fraud.
If you are a victim of a grant scam or were solicited for one, the Federal Trade Commission offers advice for detecting grant writing fraud and has a website where you can file a complaint.