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Scammers continue to con Facebook users out of thousands of dollars with phony government grant offers. You may be among the many Facebook users who have been approached by “friends” claiming you are eligible to receive a “free” U.S. government grant. In the end, there is no free government grant, but instead, an elaborate scheme to steal your personal information and money.

The scam generally works like this: you receive a message on Facebook detailing information on free grant money from the government. This message may come from a recently added Facebook friend, a family member, or a long-term friend. The message may reference other Facebook users, or people in your friend list, that have successfully received the grant. The message may even include a link to a law office, phony government website, or a real U.S. Government website to appear legitimate. The user sending you the message uses the name and photo of one of your existing friends, a real government official or well-known public figure.

No matter who is sending the message, or how they word it, eventually you will be asked to supply personal information and a payment for processing fees. Un-friend and block these users immediately. If the message came from a person you know in real life, it is likely their account has been hacked or their profile has been cloned. Contact them offline as they may not be aware that they have been compromised.  Be sure to report the abuse to Facebook.

Here are some tips to help with grant scams:

The government communicates through the mail, not Facebook. Government agencies normally communicate through the mail, so be very cautious of any unsolicited social media posts, calls, text messages or emails you receive.

Don’t pay any money for a “free” government grant. If you have to pay money to claim a “free” grant, it isn’t really free. A real government agency won’t ask you to pay a processing fee for a grant that you have already been awarded.

Free money doesn’t come easy. Scammers would have you believe that government grants are there for the taking. In reality, obtaining a government grant is an involved process, and one where the grant seeker pursues the funds, not the other way around. If someone is actively soliciting you to give you money, that’s a red flag that you are dealing with an imposter.

Be wary of look-a-like government agencies. Just because the caller says he’s from the “Federal Grants Administration” doesn’t mean that he is… or that such an agency exists. When in doubt, do a quick online search. (Beware, scammers can add fictitious phone numbers on the internet)

Pick up the phone. If you receive a suspicious call or email, call the local government agency to check its legitimacy. Look for the phone number on previous correspondence or the official government website. Don’t call the number in the email.

Be careful with friend requests from strangers. We all want to have new friends but try to keep your social networking friends to folks you know outside of the social media platform. If it appears the request is from a business contact or friend of a friend, send them a message after accepting to test their legitimacy. If they don’t seem real or connected to your life, un-friend them.

Don’t blindly trust your current Facebook friends. You may receive a message from someone you have known all your life. That doesn’t mean you must trust them inexplicitly. If the message seems out-of-character their account may have been hacked or cloned. Contact them offline and let them know.

If you’ve been the victim of a scam like this one, report it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others protect themselves from similar schemes.

For more BBB consumer tips, visit BBB.org.

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