CONSUMER FORUM

There’s no such thing as a ‘free government grant’

Posted July 20, 2014, at 6:01 a.m.

As soon as she heard the offer of a “free grant from the U.S. government,” Barbara Purington of Litchfield was suspicious.

It was offered simply because she was a good citizen, she was told. She kept the caller on the line, getting as much detail as she could before saying she would think about the offer. Instead, she called David Leach, principal examiner at Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. Leach told her what she thought she might hear: The offer was certainly a scam attempt.

Unsolicited offers of “free government grants” are always scams:

— Government officials don’t make random calls for such purposes.

— The government doesn’t have money to give away.

— Government representatives don’t get angry or upset with people on the phone who won’t do what they ask.

What the caller asked Barbara to do was to go to the nearest store that sold Green Dot prepaid cards, buy one for $250 and wire the money by Western Union. She knew if she did so, she would never see the money again — even though the caller assured her “that’ll come right back to you; [the money] will never leave the voucher.”

Barbara told the caller she would continue to think about the “offer.” He called back three consecutive days, leaving a phone number so he could “walk her through the process” of wiring money. The last call came from another man, who became belligerent when told his offer sounded fishy.

The final caller threatened to sue Barbara. She invited him to show up with his paperwork in hand and see who ended up behind bars.

People at BCCP know cases like these are all too common.

“There’s been an explosion of these scam calls,” David Leach said. “We know as regulators we only see the tip of the iceberg.”

Scammers often try to pass themselves off as government officials. On its website, the Council on Financial Assistance Reform — which coordinates federal assistance — states callers purporting to represent COFAR have told people they can receive grants of up to $25,000 if they’ll pay an up-front “processing fee” of $150 to $700. As with all other such offers, these calls are scam attempts.

Scammers don’t restrict themselves to phone lines. Fake websites abound, saying they’ll get you thousands of dollars if you’ll only send a few hundred up front for “processing” or “administrative” fees. They might also want your bank account number “for direct deposit.” If you reveal enough of your personal information, they can steal your identity.

When considering any such offer, ask for details in writing. People making legitimate offers will not hesitate to send written details, while scammers want quick answers along with your money.

Follow this advice from a BCCP news release last week:

— Don’t wire money to an unknown caller.

— Don’t give out your personal information to such callers.

— If someone calls claiming to be from a federal agency, ask for the agency’s name, physical address and supervisor’s direct-dial (not 800) phone number.

— Report any suspected government grant scams to the Bureau at 1-800-332-8529. More information about the Bureau is available at www.Credit.Maine.gov.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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