A shoebox full of gift cards and receipts that represent more than $50,000, is the only evidence of any money associated with the promise of a $500,000 federal grant a Central Florida woman chased from September 2022 to January 2023.
The woman in her late 70s asked News 6 not to disclose her identity but to use her experience as a warning to people across the country.
She said the trap was set on social media, a Facebook message from someone claiming to be an old 6th-grade classmate.
“He said, ‘Listen I just got a $200,000 grant and I’d like for you to know about it,” she told News 6 at her home. “‘Here’s the name of the woman and the phone number.’”
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That contact led to a series of gift card purchases from Publix, Winn Dixie, Walmart, Amazon, Apple and finally Lowes.
In each case, she said store managers warned her she was being “scammed.” They even stopped selling her gift cards.
“You’re afraid not to continue just out of the 50-50 chance you’re going to get the grant,” the victim said. “There was a part of me that still wanted to believe it.”
She said the impostor passed her truth test when she asked him the name of their 6th-grade teacher.
During the interview, she admitted the impostor came up with the answer a day later, an easy feat in the Google-internet era.
Orlando Secret Service agents track variations of money schemes from romance scams to the old federal grant schemes every week.
Investigators said the schemes usually involve offshore organizations that use American citizens as unwitting money mules.
“They are all scams that have been around for 20 to 30 years, " Special agent in charge Caroline Obrien-Buster said. “There are so many victims that don’t want it to be known they are victims.”
According to USA.gov, the federal government “does not offer grants or ‘free money’ to individuals to start a business or cover personal expenses.”
In 2021, consumers reported losses of more than $445 million in government impostor and government grant scams, up from $175.4 million reported in 2020.
Obrien-Buster warned that no fees should be charged to gain access to a grant.
“It’s a scam, bottom line,” she said, “If you didn’t apply for a grant why would you get one?”
If you feel you have been contacted by an impostor or you have lost money in a similar scheme, call the local Secret Service office or police department.
If you have a financial or unemployment issue email email@example.com or text the words make ends meet along with your issue to: 407-676-7428
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