Earlier this week, the phone rang in Diana Johnson’s home in Robbinsdale. The stranger on the line had a tantalizing offer: a no-strings-attached $25,000 grant from the government. He offered a list of reasons why she qualified, one of them being that she had no criminal record. Just give us your debit card number so we can confirm our records, Johnson was told. I won’t do that, she said. It starts with a 4, the caller responded. The cards all start with a 4, Johnson said. She managed to get the caller to tell her his company was “Uncle Sam’s Money” and the phone number, (202) 470-5675.
When Whistleblower called that number Friday, I spoke to Carlos Williams, customer service representative with Uncle Sam’s Money in Washington D.C. Williams said the caller was an impostor.
“This is the third complaint I just got right today, of somebody using the name Uncle Sam’s Money and giving this telephone number to call back,” Williams told me.
Williams said he company doesn’t offer free money – it sells information on getting government grants for $39.75. His web site is full of explanation points, images of cash and claims that you can get buckets of money with little effort. Whistleblower has encountered this kind of enterprise before. But transferring $25,000 to random people? That’s not his business model, according to Williams.
Fraudsters like the one who called Johnson are so common that the Federal Trade Commission has a whole page dedicated to “Government Grant Telemarketing Scams.” Here are list of tips from the FTC:
Don’t give out your bank account information to anyone you don’t 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.
Don’t pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” government grant, it isn’t really free. A real government agency won’t 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.
Look-alikes aren’t the real thing. Just because the caller says he’s from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that he is. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check the blue pages in your telephone directory to bear out your hunch — or not.
Phone numbers can deceive. Some con artists use Internet technology to disguise their area code in caller ID systems. Although it may look like they’re calling from Washington, DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
Take control of the calls you receive. If you want to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive, place your telephone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. To register online, visit www.donotcall.gov. To register by phone, call 1-888-382-1222 (TTY: 1-866-290-4236) from the phone number you wish to register.
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 at www.ftc.gov, or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
“I just want people to be aware of it,” she said.