PR for People Monthly MARCH 2017 - Page 23

You've probably heard or seen the advertisements and websites. These companies claim to have secrets to obtaining government grants to pay off debt, buy a home, start a business or just about anything else you'd like to do. They advertise on television, in newspapers, on the Internet and they call people on the phone. They sound believable, look legitimate and may even offer a "money-back guarantee," but all they do is prey on people, take their money and leave them empty-handed. Here are a couple ways that scammers lure in victims:

• A website that promises to help you find free government money. But here's the catch - the Federal government does not give money to individuals to start a business or pay off debts—EVER.

• You receive an official-sounding phone call, saying that you have been "approved for a grant from the federal government.” They usually say that you qualify for a grant because you paid your taxes on time or because you're a woman, a senior citizen, a minority or something similar. Once you're hooked, the telemarketer will move in for the kill and try and get your bank account information so they can deduct a processing fee of $199.00 to $249.00. Of course, the grant never materializes, you're out the fee and it's next to impossible to get your money back.

What the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says:

• Don't ever pay any money for a "free" government grant. It’s not free if you must pay for it. Government agencies would never ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant that you have already been awarded - or to pay for a list of grant-making institutions. The names of agencies and foundations that award grants are available for free at any public library or on the Internet. The only official access point for all federal grant-making agencies is www.grants.gov.

• Never give your bank account information to someone you do not know. Scammers pressure people to divulge their bank account information so that they can steal the money in the account. Always keep your bank account information confidential. Don't share it unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.

• Look-alikes aren't the real thing. Just because the caller says he's from the "Federal Grants Administration" or something similar, it doesn't mean that he is. There is no such government agency.

• File a complaint with the FTC. If you think you may have been a victim of a government grant scam, file a complaint with the FTC online on their website (www.ftc.gov) or call 1-877-382-4357.

Virtually, all the information you need to know about government grant programs is available online for free. You do not need to purchase any special “guide” and there are no “insider's secrets” to finding government grant opportunities. You can find these opportunities yourself for free—it just takes some effort. You can of course hire a professional grants expert to assist you. Listings are available on websites such as www.grantprofessionals.org and others.

Free grant money’ scams—separating

fact from fiction

by Ron Flavin