The federal government does not award grants to help consumers pay general debt and complaints to BBB show that people who sought free advice were charged as much as $69.95 every month on their credit or debit card.
Immediately following the approval of the $787 billion stimulus package, Web searches for "stimulus" returned sponsored link sites like officialstimulus-checks.com and Obama-StimulusGrant.net, in addition to news stories and Web pages discussing the bill. Ads for grant schemes use enticing testimonials such as, "I got my stimulus check in the mail in less than 30 days..."
The stimulus package and other efforts to jumpstart the economy are dominating headlines and unscrupulous businesses exploit the news to take advantage of financially desperate families. These businesses are charging people for free information and chipping away at the bank accounts of families when they can least afford it.
In February, ads on Facebook directed the public to sites such as www.davidgetsgreen.com and www.ja-kecutler.com which were set up to look like blogs by people sharing the secret of receiving $12,000 in grants from the government.
These "blogs" lead to Web sites such as www.federalgovernmentgrantsolutions.com which prominently features a picture of President Obama and claims that "President Obama want [sic] to issue a STIMULUS PLAN for people in need of government aid and free federal money."
The Web site is for a company, Government Grant Solutions, selling a Grant Program Kit which provides advice on applying for grants and accessing a directory of grants. The site includes "testimonials" from people who claim to obtain money to stave off foreclosure, buy Christmas presents, fix their car or pay bills.
Two Las Vegas-based companies, Grant Instructor and Raven Media, have set up dozens of Web sites and have received 409 and 295 complaints respectively. Both earned an F grade from BBB. Grant University, a company based in Utah, has received more than 300 complaints and also gets an F rating.
Complainants state that they ordered a "free" CD and were charged as much as $69.95 on their credit or debit card. Some said their credit card was charged by other companies as well.
Complainants were told that they had signed up for a "free trial" -- as explained in the terms and conditions on the Web site -- and they needed to cancel within seven days of requesting the CD or would be charged monthly.
Complainants stated that they never received the CD, received the CD after the free-trial expired or were unable to log into the Web site to access grant information. These companies failed to provide refunds. Some complainants tried to cancel the service but had to cancel their credit card to stop being billed.
Before paying any money for assistance in earning government grants, BBB offers the following advice:
While the federal government gives out billions of dollars in grants every year, most grants are given to help students pay for college or for specific reasons such as for research or to businesses in particular industries.
There's no reason to pay for software or guides when applying for government grants. Such information is available for free on federal government Web sites including: www.grants.gov, www.Studentaid.ed.gov, www.govbenefits.gov and www.sba.gov.
Always check a business' BBB Reliability Report before giving bank account or credit card information. Reliability reports are available for free at www.bbb.org.