ORLANDO, Fla. — An Orlando woman desperate to pay hospital bills thought a government grant offered a way out.
She contacted Action 9 and Todd Ulrich uncovered scammers using COVID-19 to cheat consumers.
“I was vulnerable at the time and I wasn’t thinking clearly,” Margaret Taylor said.
She could barely pay her bills after brain surgery left her buried in debt.
Then she found a Facebook friend sharing how a federal grant had turned her life around.
The message seemed real.
“She sent me a message with her face, ‘Oh I got the money! I applied for this and they sent it right away,’” Taylor explained the message read.
She checked the link for global grant fund offers, and Taylor thought it was a government site that offered struggling families a lifeline.
She applied and qualified for a grant and loan up to $100,000. But first she had to send $1,200 as an application fee.
Taylor paid the fee.
“The day they were going to send me they money they were stopped by the IRS and needed more money,” Taylor said the grant representative told her.
Taylor was told to pay another $6,000 in taxes to release the money. She realized she was being scammed. Instead of sending money she filed an FBI complaint online.
“Definitely they conned me,” Taylor said.
Taylor was stung before the pandemic. But now many consumers face desperate financial times and scammers are using grant offers to find more victims.
Florida’s Attorney General, Ashley Moody, just warned seniors about fake COVID-19 grants.
The perpetrators hack Facebook friends’ accounts and claim these federal grants help you stay isolated and safe at home. But these schemes also involve fake websites and phony fees, and nobody receives grants.
And yet, there are many victims and that does not surprise consumer experts.
“Anytime you have consumers under tremendous stress, add financial stress to that and you have the perfect victim,” said Better Business Bureau President Holly Salmons.
Many grants scams are linked to international crime networks. They are tough to shut down and even harder for victims like Taylor to get their money back.
“I’m hoping to get my money back, but I don’t know that I can now,” Taylor said.
Any grant programs that require fees before the money is released raise red flags.
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