February 14, 2014

Public warned about grant, lottery scams

BUFFALO — The Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York is warning consumers to beware of scams pretending to be from the federal government.

The agency has received numerous calls and emails from consumers inquiring about or reporting phony government grant offers, supposedly coming from federal agencies or commissions.

Consumers report unsolicited phone calls notifying them that they “won” a grant but had to pay a fee in order to collect it.

Others reported receiving calls claiming to be from the Federal Trade Commission, notifying them they won a lottery or sweepstakes but had to pay taxes and fees before they could get their winnings.

A few callers were told they could run into legal problems if they didn’t immediately release sensitive information.

Often, these “fees” were to be paid with Green Dot MoneyPak or Vanilla reloadable cards.

“Scammers claim offers are from the government, hoping they’ll carry enough credibility to sway consumers into action, and those actions often lead to cash losses,” Warren Clark, president of Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York, said in a news release. “Unfortunately, it works too often.”

The agency reminds consumers that federal agencies do not operate in this manner. The government and its Federal Trade Commission do not participate in lotteries and sweepstakes. And grants are awards only if someone applies for them. They are not awarded if you shop at a certain retail outlet or pay your bills and taxes on time.

Medicare, Medicaid and Affordable Care Act representatives will never contact anyone over the phone to ask for or update information. If there are any changes to a resident’s status or information is needed, they will contact them by mail.

To avoid being scammed, the Better Business Bureau advises people to:

Hang up: If you get one of these calls, just hang up, and do not call the number back.

Protect your information: Never give out your bank account numbers, date of birth, credit card number or Social Security number to an unsolicited caller or anyone you don’t know.

Don’t pay fees: Never pay any money — cash, check, money cards — to collect supposed sweepstakes winnings. And never wire money.

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