The Facebook “Government Grants Program” Scam

0
843

Last week I got a friend request from a guy I’ve known for years. We’ve been out of contact for a while, so I quickly confirmed the request. Then, two days later, he messaged me and asked if I had heard of “the government grants program.” I asked him “which one?”

His response was to tell me that the program netted him $50,000– and that he does not have to pay it back. He gave me the name of an attorney I could call to apply.

The next day another FB friend noticed I was on FB and messaged me. “Have you heard about the government grants program?” Hmmm, I thought. I explained that I had just the day before been asked that question by another FB friend. He gave me the contact info and FB page of a different person he said I should speak with and asked me to get in touch right away. He said he had secured the sum of $200,000.

$200,000? A grant that did not have to be repaid? The investigative reporter inside me came out.

I made the contact. The “grants facilitator” (as I will refer to him) asked me for my name, occupation, monthly income and age. I asked him to email me the form that needed to be filled out, so I could get some identifying information about the “program:” what government agency, the requirements for claiming entitlement, and the penalties for making improper claims– that kind of stuff. But the questions he asked me to answer was all there was. Red flag #1.

Based solely on my age, occupation and income I was immediately approved– without any verification of the information I gave him. Red flag #2.

Then he sent me a list of grant amounts– from $50,000 up to a million. Each “grant amount” cost money: $550 for $50,000, $2,000 for $200.000. Red flag #3.

I messaged the friend who referred me and asked him if he had actually received $200,000. I had other questions because he and I had just broken bread about a week ago at Chef Eddie’s, and I was wondering why he would not have mentioned this great program while we were together. Suddenly his chat window began spitting out error messages, saying the sender was unavailable. Red flag #4.

In the other open chat window, the “grant facilitator” was repeatedly asking me to choose an amount (and matching payment). (Do I need to mention another red flag here?) I left him in his chat window repeating the request and made a mental note to call the friend who referred me the next morning.

When I reached him the next day and mentioned the government grants program, he quickly told me “it wasn’t me.” He had been called by a few other friends and made aware of what was going on. Together we figured out that his FB page had been hijacked and commandeered by someone part of a team. I say “team” because the “grants facilitator” had asked who referred me to his page. When I gave him my friend’s name, he said he knew him and then repeated to me the same grant amount ($200,000) that the person pretending to be my friend had given me.

I’ve painstakingly related the details of these messages/chat conversations because this is a rehash of an old scam. In the past victims were simply told that they qualify for a United States grant, but must pay a processing fee first in order to have the grant issued. Hackers have also used other people’s FB accounts before.

Best VPN

So, how do you know if your FB page has been hijacked and is being used to scam somebody you know into paying for some government grant?

Facebook has attempted to deal with similar scams in the past by setting up a system that notifies people every time a change is made to their account. This was done to prevent hackers from getting into your account and changing the password to lock the owner out. So, by not making any changes, the hacker simply uses the account, hoping to score on the scam before the account owner finds out.

So, what can you do?

1. LINK TO THIS PAGE in your timeline, so that everyone in your friends list can read about this scam.
2. If you have received this “have you heard about the government grants program” message– from anyone– CALL them right away and asked if they sent it. $2 will get you 20 that they did NOT send the message.
3. Let facebook know by contacting the 24/7 support line at facebook.com/help

CAVEAT: It is important for me to say that I cannot definitively say that the “grants facilitator” is involved in the scam or not, since I decided not to pick an amount. That’s the only reason I have not listed his name. It’s possible (however unlikely) that there is a more formal process down the road, after picking an amount. But the fact that the initial message to call him came from a friend’s (hijacked) FB account says stay away from program– unless you’ve got money to burn.