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The Investigators: Government grant scams targeting Mid-Southerners on the rise

Published: May. 18, 2021 at 7:55 AM CDT|Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 7:56 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis woman pawned her coffee pot and microwave to pay a fee for a government grant she thought she was receiving, only to find out later, she’d been scammed.

The pandemic has made some victims more vulnerable than ever and, right now, grant scams are on the rise.

“When I talk about it, it makes me cry. When I think about it, it makes me cry,” said Senora Louis. She fell victim to a government grant scam.

The 61-year-old has been unemployed during the COVID-19 pandemic and lives on a fixed income.

When a friend messaged her saying she now works with a company called SBA Dollar Tree, Inc. that wants to support people during the pandemic, Louis jumped on it.

All she had to do was send $100 to get a $1,000 grant. Louis sent the money but the grant never came.

The person on the other end of the messages promised her she would get her grant, if she simply sent more money.

“I kept thinking I was going to get something back,” Louis told The Investigators.

“But something in your gut was telling you don’t send more money?” Asked The Investigators.

“Yes, and I did it anyway,” said Louis.

When Louis was out of cash, she pawned her microwave and coffee pot to get more.

“I’m really cursing myself out inside knowing ‘you was wrong, you knew it was a scam once they took your money the first three times, you should’ve stopped.’”

Louis then called the Mid-South Better Business Bureau (BBB).

“Will you have to send money to get money?” Asked The Investigators?

“No,” said Randy Hutchinson, president of the Mid-South BBB.

He says the elderly are often vulnerable to government grant scams and can become emotionally attached to the idea they’ll get fast cash.

“Chronic scam victims become invested,” Hutchinson said. “I’ve sent some money, so maybe if I send a little more, I’ll get it. Maybe I’ll send a little bit more. Also, people who have perhaps suffered a negative life event, a loss of spouse, lost a job, certainly people who are struggling with financial problems are more vulnerable than many others.”

One senior reported to the BBB she has been very isolated because of COVID-19, so when she got a message on Facebook that she qualified for a grant for seniors, she called the agent who took the time to talk to her and even called her back later that day to check in on her.

The woman went to two Walgreens stores, bought prepaid gift cards, and read the numbers on the cards back to the agent.

She never received the grant money, never spoke to the woman again, and lost $500.

The woman wrote the BBB, “I am upset about the money but I am also crushed that someone would treat another human being like this, especially a senior.”

The Mid-South BBB has received 33 government grant scam reports so far this year for a total loss of $24,750. That’s more scams and more money lost than what was reported in all of 2020.

Each of those scams are entered into the BBB’s scam tracker tool, where consumers can search by region or scam type to find what scammers are trying to pull in their area.

As Louis will tell anyone, it’s not just about the money lost.

“It was very heartbreaking,” she said. “My blood pressure went up. I was stressing. I’m depressed. I just want people to know when they see that stuff on Facebook, it is not real. It is not real at all.”

To avoid government grant scams, remember the government doesn’t phone or send unsolicited emails, letters, or messages to offer grants.

Plus, government grants do not require a fee but do require an application process.

To learn more about government grant scams and how to avoid them, visit this link.

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