Michael Gibson thought he was a lucky man. Someone was offering him a government grant of $ 95,000 if he paid a fee of only $ 1,500.
He was lucky, but not the way he thought he was.
When he tried to transfer the charge, the transaction was unsuccessful due to the limitations of his credit card. This saved Gibson, of Allentown, from falling into an old scam that changes over time to find new victims.
Government grants do not come with fees. They aren’t approved immediately either, nor through Facebook, as Gibson has been led to believe. There are usually a lot of documents to complete and review. So if you are asked to pay and you are approved instantly, it is a scam.
Gibson now understands this and he has contacted the watchdog to make sure the others are in the know as well.
“I want people to know that they have to be careful about this stuff,” he told me.
This scam has been around for some time and has evolved. Gibson is the first person I heard to meet him on Facebook. Previous versions were done by phone, mail, email, and classifieds.
Gibson told me he was in contact with the bogus grantor through his cousin in Louisiana. She told him on Facebook that she had been approved for a $ 50,000 grant and explained how he too could cash in by contacting an “empowerment program” agent on Facebook.
He later learned that his cousin’s Facebook account had been hacked and that it was the scammer, not his cousin, who sent the message.
But he didn’t know it at the time, so a few weeks ago he followed instructions to contact the government’s bogus empowerment program. He got a two-minute response from “George Williams Officer”.
He filled out a form, was immediately approved, and was told the money would be delivered by UPS within the day, according to a transcript of the conversation Gibson sent me.
It wasn’t until then that Gibson was told he would have to pay the delivery guys for “the file and the shipping fund” to get his grant.
The cost would vary depending on the amount of the cash grant he wanted: $ 1,000 for $ 50,000, $ 1,500 for $ 95,000, $ 2,000 for $ 150,000 or $ 3,000 for $ 200,000.
“Sir, this is not a hoax, is it, I know it is to pay nothing up front,” he replied.
Officer George Williams didn’t like it.
“What do you mean by a hoax? he responded, according to the transcript. “This is a federal government project and how do you expect a federal government project to be a hoax?” We want you to know that this money is tax free and that you never had to pay it back. The money you pay doesn’t owe us. Because we don’t get money from anyone to give them their money. “
Gibson said he would pay $ 1,500 for a grant of $ 95,000. He was told to pay in advance by transferring the money.
Gibson tried to transfer money online, using his credit card. The transaction was taking time and George Williams Officer was getting impatient.
“We suggest you call Western Union and tell them they need to authorize the money now,” he told Gibson.
When the transaction was declined because it was over Gibson’s cash advance limit, he suggested that Gibson go to the bank and get a cash advance there.
“You let them know how badly you need the money,” wrote George Williams Officer.
More like how much he need money.
This is where their conversation ended.
“He was very upset that the money didn’t go through and asked if I could get the money somewhere,” Gibson told me in an email. “I told him no. It was the last time I heard from him.
Gibson said his cousin in Louisiana hasn’t lost any money either. Authorities there are investigating his meeting. He is thankful that his transaction did not work out.
“A real government agency will not ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant you have already received,” the Federal Trade Commission warns on its website.
The FTC also says that you shouldn’t pay for a list of grant opportunities.
I have also heard from people who have recently been affected in this way. They received deceptive green postcards in the mail that said, “Pending cash grant request of $ 20,978.”
“Our office is trying to reach you about a scattering of government funding,” read the cards, which did not indicate who sent them but had a phone number.
A man and woman from Allentown who sent me the cards told me they called and found the mailings didn’t tell them they had won grants, but offered them materials to apply for grants .
They were told that the information was “free”, but that they would have to pay the shipping costs by providing a credit card number. It’s not free, and who knows what they would do with your credit card information.
I called the numbers on their postcards and had the same story. I was told that the cards were sent to people who had “pre-qualified” for grants. This is nonsense because the man and woman who sent me the cards had not applied for grants. Technically, we may all be prequalified and have pending grants waiting for us. All we have to do is apply.
To do this, we do not have to pay to have the materials shipped to us. We can get them for free ourselves. The FTC says the information is available in public libraries, at http://www.grants.gov and at 800-518-4726. You can also contact your Senator or Congressman.
The watchdog is published on Thursdays and Sundays. Contact me at [email protected], 610-841-2364 or The Morning Call, 101 N. Sixth St., Allentown, PA, 18101. I’m on Twitter @mcwatchdog and Facebook at Morning Call Watchdog.