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Government Grant Scams: If You Have to Pay, You Didn’t Win

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“If it sounds too good to be true…” It’s been said so many times, you don’t even have to hear the rest of the phrase to know what’s coming. And yet—somehow—scammers still try it and consumers still fall for it.

A recent rise in government grant scams has a lot of consumers scratching their heads. What is a government grant, and how does this scam work? Simple: by convincing you that your government has nothing better to do with the funds it collects in taxes than to call random citizens and offer them thousands of dollars.

See? You’re already wondering how anyone could fall for this, but when the phone call comes and the very official-sounding pitch begins, it can be easy to forget how our system of taxation really works. But you can rest assured that the government does not draw names from lists of so-called “good citizens” and call them out of the blue.

There’s another sure-fire way you can tell that there’s something shady about this grant offer: you have to pay money—typically several hundred dollars—in order to receive the funds. And not only do you have to hand over some money, you have to do it by wire transfer or pre-paid debit card. You know, two forms of payment that are very hard to trace.

So here’s the bottom line: you NEVER pay to receive your winnings in any contest, lottery, or award, and you NEVER give your personal information to someone who contacts you unexpectedly and claims that you won something.

Having said all of that, the website that the scammers reluctantly provide when pressured into answering is Grants.gov. The .gov web address lets you know that this is an actual government website. The scammers are lying, though, and their attempts at fraud are not associated with it. Grants.gov is an extensive database of all government grants that are available for application, so they know you’ll never be able to find them (or prove they aren’t associated with it) just by searching the website.

On the plus side, Grants.gov is a legitimate source of information if you are planning to apply for a grant. However, as anyone who’s ever applied for a grant can tell you, it’s a lengthy process filled with all kinds of verification requirements—much of it in writing—and no, the grant recipients don’t win money for doing nothing. If you’re seeking actual sources of grant funding, it’s an excellent place to start.

Cristy_KoeblerCristy Koebler is Communications & Media Manager at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in identity theft on social networks and smartphones, and shares educational information with the public through ITRC’s social media channels.

Categories: Digital Citizenship, Online Security

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