Calls, ads offering free government grants are scams

The Better Business Bureau is seeing an increase in the number of consumer calls recently questioning free government grants. The message is usually the same, whether you see them in an ad or receive a phone call.

Ads or callers claim you have qualified for a free grant to pay for education costs, home repairs, home business expenses or unpaid bills, from a government agency or some other organization with an official sounding name, which guarantees acceptance and states you'll never have to pay the money back.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, "money for nothing" grant-offers are usually scams, whether you see them in your newspaper or a national magazine, or hear about them from a phone solicitation.

Grant scammers generally follow a script: They congratulate you on your eligibility and ask for your checking account information so they can deposit your grant directly into your account or cover a one-time processing fee. The caller may even reassure you that you can get a refund if not satisfied. In fact, you'll never see the grant they promise and they will disappear with your money.

The BBB recommends consumers follow these tips from the FTC to prevent becoming a victim of these "government grant" scams:

* Don't give financial information to anyone you don't know. Scammers pressure people to divulge bank account information so they can steal money in your account. Always keep your bank account information confidential.

* 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 www.grants.gov.

* Look-alikes aren't the real thing. Just because a caller says he's from the Federal Grants Administration doesn't mean he is. There is no such government agency. Take a moment to check the blue pages in your telephone directory to check the listing.

* Take control of calls you receive. Register your phone numbers with the National Do-Not-Call Registry at 888-382-1222 or online at www.donotcall.gov.

* Check out the company with the BBB. Check to see whether the company provides a local telephone number, not just a toll-free number. Scammers specifically use toll-free numbers to hide their true identity and location. Ask for copies of their business license, a list of their grant writers and a list of their successful grant applications, names of the agencies that awarded grants and a list of references.

* 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 by calling 877-382-4357 or online at www.ftc.gov.

Roberta Namee and Mary Ann Redeker-Perez work for the Better Business Bureau in Wichita.If you have questions or concerns about a company, contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or www.kansasplains.bbb.org.