“Money for Nothing” is a great song (from a year I’m not going to name because none of us need to feel that old right now) but a lousy concept to hang your hopes on. Especially when it comes to the promise of grant money.
Hang around the internet long enough and you’re bound to see an advertisement, email or social media post (or direct message) informing you that you—yes, YOU—have been awarded a grant you didn’t apply for, or can get one simply by responding to the pitch.
This is the problem: grant money is kind of hard to get. First, you must have an identifiable project that needs funding. Then you must find a grant that is earmarked for projects like yours. Then comes the application process, which can be quite exhaustive (and exhausting). After the paperwork comes the waiting. If you are successful, then comes using the money exactly as indicated, then (usually) reporting back to the grantor with proof that you did so.
But in the popular imagination, grants are just free money indiscriminately handed out for doing whatever. That makes grants, especially federal grants, an easy setup for scams. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- You will never be awarded a grant you did not apply for.
- They do not hold drawings or raffles to distribute grant money.
- Real government grants do not require you to pay up front—advance fee fraud is a very common grant scam (there may be private foundations that require an application fee, but this would be exceedingly rare, and cause for suspicion in most cases).
- Grantors will not contact you out of the blue; it is your job to find them.
- Your friend on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram is not telling you about a real grant opportunity. Your friend’s account has been hacked or cloned.
- You will generally never be awarded a grant to simply do whatever you want with it.
- For the most part, grants are not advertised, and the word “free” is suspect; there may be exceptions involving famous people running a nationwide project, but a yard sign or a flyer on a pole? No.
- “Cash this check, then wire some of it back to me for fees/taxes/because the amount is too high” is always, always, ALWAYS a scam.
What do the people running grant scams want? They want the usual: for victims to give them money or personal information. They may ask for banking information in hopes of breaking into your accounts, other personal details to steal your identity, an upfront payment via wire transfer or prepaid gift cards, or to convince you to cash a check, then wire funds back before the check comes back as counterfeit.