In tough economic times, it can be hard to turn down free money — especially if it appears to come from a friend. BBB.org/ScamTracker is receiving numerous reports that con artists are stealing information from Facebook and Instagram accounts and promoting phony COVID-19 relief grants to their network and friends list.
How the scam works
You get a Facebook Messenger chat or Instagram direct message that look like it comes from a friend, relative, community member, or another other person you trust. The message is telling you about a grant for COVID-19 relief. Your “friend” may claim to have already applied and received thousands of dollars.
Scammers are either hacking social media accounts or creating separate lookalike profiles by stealing photos and personal information. Either way, these con artists are banking that you will trust a message that appears to come from someone you know. For example, one recent victim was contacted by someone posing as a leader in their church. “This scam was very convincing. (It looked like it came from) someone I know and trust,” they wrote. “Because of COVID-19, I’m laid off, so I would try it. (The scammer) said my name was on a list to receive this grant money. I lost $1,000 of my unemployment.”
While many people report being targeted through social media, that’s not the only way scammers are reaching potential victims. Other versions of this scam use phone calls and text messages.
No matter how you hear about a “grant,” there is a major catch! To get the “grant,” you need to pay upfront first. The scammer will claim the money pays for “delivery” or “processing.” The scammer will take the money, and your grant will never materialize.
How to spot a phony grant scam
- Be wary of your friends’ taste online. Your friend or family member may have impeccable judgment in real-life. So if their online presence, email messages, social posts, and direct messages appear different in nature, it could be they have been hacked or have an impersonated account.
- 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 you have already been awarded. The only official list of all U.S. federal grant-making agencies is
- Check for look-alikes. Be sure to do your research and see if a government agency or organization actually exists. Find contact info on your own and call them to be sure the person you’ve heard from is legitimate.
- Report scam accounts and messages to Facebook and Instagram. Alert administrators to fake profiles, compromised accounts, and spam messages by reporting them on Facebook and Instagram.
For more information
Learn more about government scams (BBB.org/GrantScam). For advice on keeping your Facebook account secure, check out this article in Facebook’s Help Center. Visit www.facebook.com/help, under Privacy and Safety; click “Keeping Your Account Secure.”
If you’ve fallen victim to this kind of scam, help others avoid the same pitfall by filing a scam report at BBB.org/ScamTracker.