Too Good to be True: Federal Grant Scams

This federal agend was a Sly Fox flickr-edenpicturesI received a very strange phone call today. My caller ID said that the number was “unavailable.” I usually ignore calls from numbers that I don’t recognize but today I was feeling froggy and decided to answer it.

An unfamiliar man’s voice with a very thick accent asked if he was indeed speaking with Ally Levise. Frowning and feeling irritated that someone was about to try and sell me something, I told him that yes, he was.

I absolutely hate telemarketing calls – I feel bad being mean to telemarketers or hanging up on them because, well, telemarketers are just trying to make a dime like the rest of us.

There’s no need to yell at them or try and ruin their day.

It’s politeness to the point of inconveniencing myself.

It’s irritating.

With my identity confirmed, the man proceeded to tell me that he was from the Federal Reserve and that I had been awarded a grant of $7,000 from the federal government.

I waited a beat, expecting him to tell me that first I had to subscribe to three different magazines.

“Okay… what do I have to do?” I humored him.

He told me that I didn’t have to do anything – that the government awarded X amount of grants a year to people who had not filed for bankrupcy within the past six months and who had a good credit score.

He said that I only needed to spend the money on something responsible and to keep the receipt so that the US government could rest assured that I hadn’t done something silly like spend their $7,000 on junk food or drugs.

He then asked for my account information, so that the government could apply this magical amount of money to my bank account. I frowned again and replied that I was not comfortable giving out my account information over the phone. Sounding wholly exasperated, he huffed into the phone, “Ma’am, I am a federal agent. I’m trying to help you.”

I bristled. “Okay, sir, but do you know how prevalent identity theft is these days?”

He replied, “Sometimes you just have to trust people.”

I then asked him if they could send me my check in the mail. He said that only grant amounts of $10,000 or more could be mailed to the homes of recipients. I asked why and he, again, sounded like he was losing patience with me. “That’s how we do it and your amount is not over $10,000.”

“Could you just send me an email or something for verification first?” I asked. “Because, I’m sorry, but I am not giving you my account number over the phone.”

“Well!” he replied, sounding very exasperated with me, “I’m just trying to help you, I’ll call you back in 24 hours.” He hurriedly hung up on me.

Geez. That was rude. And it was a waste of about 6 minutes of my life. The fact that someone had just tried to con me gave me a creepy feeling and I promptly googled “scam calling to offer a federal grant.” I had never heard of this kind of scam before, but results matching my experience immediately popped up – apparently this is a fairly frequent go-to for scammers.

I am not an identity theft expert, but as a layperson, these are the things that set off alarm bells for me, and these are things that you can watch out for if a similar experience happens to you:

  • First, the call came from an “unavailable” number, which always seems sketchy.
  • This was one of those fishy “too good to be true” kind of offers. How often does the US government just up and offer you a large sum of money?
  • Furthermore, this person did not sound like a federal reserve agent to me (or, at least, what I imagine a federal reserve agent to sound like). It also seemed unlikely to me that someone with the title of “federal agent” would be doing lackey work like calling up grant recipients.
  • Also, when the man paused, I could hear what sounded like one side of many similar conversations going on in the background – and everyone speaking had that same heavy accent. This seemed odd to me.
  • Some things that he said didn’t make a whole lot of sense, either. I received federal grants when I was in college and none of them were ever deposited directly into my bank account. They were all mailed to me as checks, and they were all well below $10,000.

All in all, I was warned by the unsettled feeling that I was getting from the whole situation. I would urge people to listen to their instincts, adding that it is never a good idea to give away account information if you’re not 100 percent sure of the legitimacy of whomever you’re speaking with. Stay on your toes!