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Free Money Hook for Government Grant Scam

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If free government money you never have to repay sounds too good to be true, you’re right, because it’s the hook for a common con. In 2016, BBB received over 1,100 reports of government grant scams through BBB Scam Tracker, an online tool used to provide consumers with a place to report scams and fraud and to warn others about malicious or suspicious activities.  BBB advises consumers to be on the lookout for scam artists posing as government agents promising “free money” for a fee.

“Government agencies do not make phone calls to individuals to solicit funds or financial information”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “There is an application process for all government grants. If you have not submitted an application for a grant, you will not be awarded one.”

 How the Scam Works:

Scammers contact you through phone calls, emails, or posts on social media. No matter the medium, the  message is similar: the government is awarding “free grants.” You are told that your application is guaranteed to be accepted, and you will never have to repay the money. You can use the “grant” to pay bills, make repairs, or pay education costs.

When you reply to the ad or take the bait on the phone, the scammer claims to be a “government agent.” The con artist congratulates you on being eligible for the grant and asks for a one-time “processing fee.” Other fees will inevitably follow, and they may all seem very official. Whatever the story, one thing is certain; you will never see the money.

BBB offers the following tips to help you avoid these “government grant” scams:

Be careful with unsolicited calls asking for your banking information. Scammers will cold call, asking basic questions to see if you qualify for a grant, and then ask for your banking information saying they need to collect a one-time processing fee and directly deposit your money.

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 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 grants.gov.

Look-alikes aren’t the real thing. BBB has received numerous calls from consumers claiming the “Federal Grants Administration” approved them for a grant. Just because the scammer claims to be with the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean they are. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check out the agency to determine its legitimacy.

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.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373 or report it via BBB ScamTracker.

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Online Dating Scams Give Love a Bad Name

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Over the years, the internet has become a major resource for people looking for love. According to a 2015 survey by Pew Research Center, 15 percent of U.S. adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps. With more people using online dating, scammers are taking advantage by creating compelling backstories, full-fledged identities then trick you into falling for somebody who doesn’t exist. Better Business Bureau serving Central East Texas (BBB) urges consumers to be on the lookout for scams being populated on online dating websites and on social networks.

“The romance scam is very similar to other types of consumer fraud, however, in this case the scammer’s main tool is affection and eventually love,” said Mechele Agbayani Mills, president and CEO of BBB Central East Texas. “They use this feigned devotion to swindle thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars from their prey”.

Targeting single and widowed men and women, love scammers are setting up fake profiles committing anywhere from three to twelve months to woo their victims into emptying their pockets. Often times scammers claim to be in the military or working overseas as a reason to not meet you in person.

BBB warns consumers of the following love scam operator tactics:

  • They claim to be from the U.S., but they are overseas for business or family matters.
  • They profess their love at warp speed, usually within 24-48 hours.
  • They send gifts within the first few weeks of contact both to endear their victims to them as well as to confirm their victim’s address.
  • Many claim to have lost a spouse in a tragic accident.
  • They insist you keep the relationship a secret.

BBB offers the following tips to help avoid heartbreak:

  • Never send money to someone you have never met and whom you don’t know well. If you are asked to send funds via wire transfer, prepaid credit card, Green Dot Moneypack, or any unusual method of payment, discontinue contact immediately. If you refuse to send money to a scam artist, they will move on to someone else.
  • Don’t click on links or open attachments. Links can download malware onto your computer which are designed to retrieve information and compromise your identity. So be careful next time searching for how to use poppers.
  • Never share personally identifiable information. Refrain from sharing banking and credit card information, birthday and Social Security number with anyone you don’t know.
  • Don’t be pressured to act immediately. Scammers typically make you think something is scarce. They want to push you into action before you have time to think or to discuss it with a family member, friend or financial advisor.
  • Be cautious about what you share online. Be sure to use privacy settings on all social media and online accounts. Imposters often get information about their targets from their online interactions and can make themselves sound like a friend or family member because they know so much about you.

For more information on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, please use BBB Scam Tracker or call the BBB Hotline: (903)581-8373)

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BBB to Host Shred Events in October

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Better Business Bureau serving Central East Texas is hosting Shred Events in your area in October.  The events are designed to help individuals and small businesses fight identity theft by offering free shredding services for up to three (3) boxes or bags of documents per vehicle.  For these events BBB will be joined by partners; City of Van, Austin Bank, Lindale Chamber of Commerce, Shred-It, and Ark-La Tex Shredding Co., Inc.

“Individuals and small businesses should be proactive in protecting their personal information and that of their clients”, said Betsie Chimney, Engagement Specialist for BBB serving Central East Texas.  “The first rule in identity protection is if you don’t need it, destroy it responsibly.”

Shred-It and Ark-La Tex Shredding Co., Inc. are generously donating their shredding services for the events.  Shredder trucks and volunteers will be on hand to assist with shredding documents and hand out information on identity theft protection best practices.

BBB serving Central East Texas is part of an expansive network of BBBs across North America that collaborate to produce Secure Your ID Day Events.  The program is a BBB branded identity theft, fraud prevention and educational initiative that features on-site document destruction and distribution of identity protection tips and resources to local communities.

October Shred Days are as follows:

BBB Shred Day Co-Sponsored by City of Van & Shred-It

Date:  Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Time:  8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Location:  Van City Hall, 133 W. Main St., Van Tx

BBB Shred Day Co-Sponsored by Austin Bank & Shred-It

Date:  Saturday, October 14, 2017

Time:  12:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Location:  Austin Bank, 9111 NW Loop 281, Longview, Tx

BBB Shred Day Co-Sponsored by Lindale Chamber of Commerce & Ark-La Tex Shredding Co., Inc.

Date:  Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Time:  9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Location:  Lindale Chamber of Commerce, 205 S. Main St., Lindale, Tx

For more information about these events, contact BBB at 903-581-5704 or by going to bbb.org.

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BBB Tips in Light of the Equifax Databreach

One of the nation’s thee major credit reporting agencies, Equifax experienced a data breach from mid-May through July. According to Equifax, 143 million American consumers person information was compromised. The hackers accessed names, social security numbers, birth dates, addresses and a few driver’s license numbers. They also stole 209,000 credit card numbers and 182,000 dispute documents with personal identifying information. The United Kingdom and Canada was affected as well.

“Being proactive is very important, as it does help reduce the chances of having your identity compromised”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB serving Central East Texas. “However, there’s never a guarantee that your information won’t get exposed. “

Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips to help protect yourself after a data breach:

  • Stay calm. Consumers are not liable for fraudulent charges on stolen account numbers.
  • Check your credit reports. Go to annualcreditreport.com for a free credit check from the three major credit reporting agencies. This is the only website authorized by the Federal Trade Commission to provide you with a free annual credit report. Be wary of ads, emails and social media messages for other services.
  • Consider a credit freeze or fraud alert. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account with your information. However, it won’t prevent a thief from making charges to existing accounts. A fraud alert flags your credit reports, alerting potential lenders to verify the identity of anyone attempting to open an account in your name. Fraud alerts are free and don’t interfere with instant credit. However, it relies entirely on the diligence of the person performing the credit check and must be reinstated every 90 day days in most cases.
  • Monitor your financial accounts. Check your bank statements online regularly and alert your bank if you see fraudulent charges. Keep receipts in case you need to prove which charges you authorized and ones you didn’t.
  • Beware of phishing scams. Be on alert of scammers who may purport to be from the retailer, your bank, or credit card issuer, telling you that your card was compromised and suggesting actions to “fix” the problem. Phishing emails may attempt to fool you into providing your credit card information, or ask you to click on a link or open an attachment, which can download malware onto your computer

Equifax has created a website to assist consumers in determining if their information has been impacted and to sign up for credit file monitoring and identity theft protection. A dedicated call center is set up to assist consumers seven days a week from 7-1 a.m. EST at 1-866-447-7559.

For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB Hotline: 903-581-8373 or report it via BBB ScamTracker.

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