Governor Paul R. LePage joined officials in Maine's Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection in highlighting a recent trend of Mainers receiving unsolicited offers of substantial government grants if they pay an initial advance or administrative fee.
In some of these cases, the consumers are also asked to provide personal and financial information.
"Government agencies aren't in the business of making unsolicited calls to offer grants or financial awards of any kind," Governor LePage said. "Mainers receiving such offers are encouraged to be cautious and to contact the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, which provides expert advice and assistance on many personal finance matters, including those related to unexpected offers of funds, prizes, debt management services or other financial incentives."
The Bureau's Principal Examiner, David Leach, outlined several recent cases:
A Chelsea resident received an unsolicited call from the "United States Federal Grant Program," promising an $8,400 grant for an advance fee of $400. The consumer's Caller ID displayed a Washington, D.C. area code (202), but the call was traced to India.
Another Mainer was offered a government grant through the "Finance Accounting Department." This $6,000 grant, she was told, could be obtained by sending $250 through a Green Dot Money Pack card.
The "Federal Treasury Department" offered a Maine man a $6,500 grant in exchange for an unspecified wire payment to cover administrative costs and other program fees.
The "Federal Grant Program" called another Maine consumer informing her that she had been selected out of 1,500 Mainers to receive a $7,000 grant. The consumer became wary when the caller demanded an upfront "administrative fee" payment.
In each of these cases, the consumers contacted the Bureau, and were warned not to send funds or permit access to their checking accounts. The phony grant dollar figures typically range from $800 to more than $8,000 . "Consumers are often asked to disclose their bank account numbers, under the premise that the funds could be transmitted directly into those accounts, and are asked for their Social Security numbers and dates of birth," David Leach said. "But then, before their "grants" are sent, the consumers are told they must transmit funds using money services such as Western Union, MoneyGram, Vanilla Card or Green Dot card to pay administrative costs and fees,"
Leach said the personal information, such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, is likely collected to perpetrate subsequent identity theft. He emphasized that if an unknown person offers free grant money in exchange for an advance or processing fee or disclosure of personal or bank account information, it's a scam.
The Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection offers the following guidelines:
Never send money, especially using money transmitters or prepaid cash cards, to unknown telephone solicitors.
Do not disclose personal information such as Social Security number, date of birth, credit card or bank account numbers to unknown callers. This could lead to identity theft.
If the callers say they are from a federal agency, ask for the exact name of that agency, the agency's physical address, and their supervisor's direct dial (not an 800 number). If the caller claims to be in Washington, DC, the number should have a Washington, DC area code of 202.
Report any suspicious activity involving government grant scams to the Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection, 1-800-332-8529. Additional information about the Bureau and its resources is available at www.Credit.Maine.gov.