Don’t fall for bogus government grant scams

John North is president of the Dayton Better Business Bureau.

BBB’s Scam Tracker, a tool which provides consumers across North America with a place to report scams and fraud, and to warn others of malicious or suspicious activities, took nearly 470 reports of government grant scams between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2016. Government grant scams were among the most reported scams submitted to Scam Tracker. Consumers reported losses of more than $28,000 during this time period or an average loss of about $60 each.

Government grant scammers typically pose as a government official and share you’ve won a grant and need to claim it. The scammer often alleges the grant can be used to pay for vacations, pay off personal debts, even to pay for tuition. The scheme may start with a call from a scammer encouraging you to apply for a guaranteed free grant you’ll never have to repay. Scammers often use the phone to find their victims. But, many lure the victims in through bogus social media posts or fake Web sites.

Once you take the scammer’s bait, he or she requests you load money onto a prepaid card or wire money to cover fees and/or taxes, and then send it to him or her so the grant can be released. Sometimes scammers just ask for bank account information to deposit funds directly, but they use that information to drain accounts. Once you pay, scammers keep coming back claiming additional fees need to be paid. Unfortunately, many victims don’t realize they’ve been scammed until it’s too late and they are unable to trace or retrieve the money they’ve provided to scammers.

Here are some tips to help you avoid falling for these scams:

• Be wary if you get a call saying you’re receiving a grant you didn’t apply for. You don’t get grants out of the blue; you have to apply for them. It’s generally a lengthy process where money is awarded to a civic or nonprofit organization for community betterment, not to individuals for personal use.

• Keep in mind, phone numbers can be falsified on caller ID. It could be a scammer who’s hiding the real number to seem more credible.

• Remember, the government typically doesn’t call, text or e-mail. Government agencies normally communicate through the mail, so be very cautious of any unsolicited calls, text messages or e-mails you receive.

For more information about these scams or to research questionable offers and solicitations, contact your Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org or call (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301.