Criminals exhaust every avenue when it comes to ripping people off. Malware, ransomware and phishing attacks are just a few online threats that we constantly need to watch out for.
Now, some criminals are going old-school with their scams. They are turning to scam phone calls to find new victims.
Watch out for this latest phone scam
What's happening is, scammers are calling random people across the U.S. and offering them free government money. The fraudsters claim that the person who answers the phone is eligible for a free government grant. Many of the incoming phone numbers have a Washington, D.C. area code, so many people are falling for it.
The caller impersonates a U.S. government official from the Federal Grants Administration before letting the consumer know they can receive between $8,000 and $11,000. The reality is, there is no such agency.
Also, since it's the back-to-school time of year, many of the scammers claim the grant is for tuition. Others say the grant is simply for being a good citizen who pays their taxes and doesn't have a criminal record.
There's one catch. Before they receive the grant, they need to pay for a processing fee of $250. Typically, the victim is instructed to pay the fee using a prepaid debit card, an iTunes gift card, or a wire transfer.
It doesn't end there. The fraudster then asks the victim to verify their name, address, employer and banking information.
These types of scams are quite common. The Federal Trade Commission has some basic rules to follow to avoid falling victim.
How to stay protected from government grant scams
Here are some suggestions from the FTC to stay protected from government grant phone scams:
- 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.
- Never pay 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.
- File a complaint - if you receive a scam call, write down the number and file a complaint with the FCC so it can help identify and take appropriate action to help consumers targeted by illegal callers.
- Register your phone number - consider registering all of your phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.