Fraudsters use Facebook Messenger to impersonate Utah Attorney General in grant scam

Photo by Ra2studio with overlay by Aquir/iSttock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Fraudsters have hit the big time in Utah using a new scheme across the Beehive State.

After receiving a number of recent reports of a scam involving grant money, the Utah Attorney General’s Office issued a statement Friday outlining the tenets of the scam, along with tips to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

Fraudsters message potential victims through Facebook Messenger where they advertise grants worth thousands of dollars in exchange for a small fee.

When the individual responds to the message, they are then directed to a bogus personal page to complete a series of grant application questions, according to reports received by the agency.

Once the application is “approved” they are prompted to send the payment. Soon after, they receive a grant check in return. The check bounces but by then the scammer and the victim’s money are gone.

Another victim reported they were given a phone number to contact Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, which they did and were told that neither the Attorney General’s Office nor Sean Reyes were involved, and were told the grant offer was indeed a scam.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there has been a surge in reports involving government impostors.

Infographic of government impostor scams that have been at the top of the scam list since 2014 | Image courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission, St. George News

Many are familiar with Social Security Administration impostors who claim the victim’s Social Security number has been linked to “criminal activity” and ask them to provide some information or money. The Social Security Administration says they don’t work that way.

There are a number of other scams involving government agencies that are still alive and well, the FTC says, gauging from the number of calls the agency continues to receive from the public reporting fraudsters pretending to be with the IRS, Medicare, a government grants group, police officers and even the FBI.

In 2019, the median losses suffered by victims of law enforcement impostors, the highest of all impostor scams, was $3,000. Further, 20% of the people reporting the scam lost money. These calls work, the FTC says, “because they are scary.”

The Utah Attorney General’s Office issued a warning to the public and provided the following safety tips to reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

Don’t wire money.

True lotteries, sweepstakes or grants awarded do not ask for money; not for shipping and handling, taxes or customs. State officials and agencies do not typically ask people to send money for prizes, grants, unpaid loans or to avoid being thrown in jail. When they do, they follow a formalized process.

Stop and think.

Technology makes it easy for scammers to alter their identity and assume someone else’s. Always look up the business or entity online to make sure they are reputable before conducting any business either online or by phone. This goes for anyone asking for money or personal information. If the offer references a state agency or official, contact the respective office through a confirmed phone number or email to verify its validity before moving forward, or check with the Utah Consumer Protection Division and the Utah Better Business Bureau to see if the person/organization is credible.

Do not share your financial or personal information.

If a call is received involving a debt, even one that appears legitimate, be sure to contact that business or entity directly before making any transactions. Whether it’s over the phone, email, social media, or in person, don’t give out personal information. This includes banking and financial information, birth dates or social security numbers

When in doubt, contact the Utah Attorney General’s Office. 

If you receive a message, call or email from someone claiming to be someone from our office or any other official, please contact our office directly to report and verify whether or not it is legitimate at 801-281-1200 or uag@agutah.gov. .

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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