FTC warns residents about 'free grant' scam

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by Diana Zoga / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on December 12, 2012 at 10:24 PM

Updated Thursday, Dec 13 at 7:51 AM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Authorities have advice for residents who get a call from someone claiming to work for the government, telling them they've won a federal grant: just hang up.

Despite registering with the Missouri Attorney Generals no call list, Neal Breitweiser has been plagued by calls from an unidentified phone number. Wednesday morning, he said he decided to pick up and play along.

The voice on the other end of the line exclaimed, "We have great news! You've won a $7,000 grant!"

Breitweiser started asking questions and the man on the other end of the line had an answer, even giving Breitweiser a fraudulent Federal Tax ID number.

The man gave Breitweiser another number to call, in the 202 area code, and instructed him to ask for Kelly Brown.

Breitweiser called the number and a woman immediately picked up. She said Breitweiser would have to wire a $300 payment to cover the processing fee before she could transfer the full $7,000 federal government grant into Breitweiser's account.

Breitweiser said he'd heard enough, "She promptly hung up when I asked her if she was conning people."

While it all sounded ridiculous to Breitweiser, something he heard in the background concerned him.

"You could hear in the background hundreds of people saying the same thing; it was a call center," he said. "I wonder how many people they've ripped off."

The Federal Trade Commission has long warned of this particular scam and variations of it. Sometimes, the caller claims the potential victim won a scholarship, or they've earned a grant because they filed their income taxes on time.

There's always a catch, however. The target is asked to provide a credit card or bank account number, or to wire money in order to get money.

Wiring money is much like handing cash to a stranger and walking away, as there's almost no way to trace it, especially if it's wired overseas.

Residents are reminded that just because a caller gives a phone number with a Washington D.C. area code, it does not mean they are actually in D.C. It's very easy to buy a phone resgistered in a given area and dispose of it later. 

While Breitweiser never believed the caller, he admits the person on the other end of the line is convincing.

The caller follows a script and tries to make a convincing case, claiming the victim has to act fast.

The Federal Trade Commission has advice here, and, background on the complaints the FTC has received.

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