KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — In tough economic times as many people are facing with the pandemic, it can be hard to turn down free money — especially if it appears to be recommended by a friend. Grant-related scams generally begin with a social media message from someone who appears to be your fiend but in reality, they are a scammer who has hacked your friend’s account and is using their photo.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare sat down with a Knoxville man who was one step away from losing hundreds of dollars.

If he had taken that first step, the next request would have been for more money. Scammers either hack social media accounts, or create separate lookalike profiles.

What’s being offered are grants — but there’s a major catch. To get the grant, you need to pay upfront first for “delivery” or “processing.” The scammer will take the money, and your grant will never materialize.

Larry Patterson is a cancer survivor. The 63-year-old former construction worker was disabled seven years ago, today’s he’s unable to work. Earlier this week on Facebook, Larry received a message from a person he believed was a family friend.  

“She told me to try this program, it had helped her. She had been granted 50 thousand dollars,” Larry Patterson said.

He was told the money was from the Global Greengrants Fund. It’s actually an environmental and human rights nonprofit that gives small grants to activists. Larry responded and received a number of texts from the fraudster informing him about the grant.

In one text message, the con artist explained how money from the grant could be used: “‘This will pay for education, medical bills and even buy a house,'” Patterson read. “‘This is free money and it can be used for almost anything you can imagine.'”

He received a bunch of text messages — some wanting for personal information, which he provided.

“And they asked for my full name,  full address, age, occupation, email, monthly income, phone number,” Patterson said.

They got back to him quickly, asking him to send $500 from the post office to cover FedEx delivery and third party business charges.

And they provided specific instructions.

“It says do not tell anybody about your winning money or disclose anything about your package until it has been delivered,” Patterson said.

The Federal Trade Commission says that money for nothing grant offers are scams. That text messaging is the newest way of reaching people. The FTC says grant scammers generally follow a script. You are first required to an upfront qualification fee then you are hit for more.

“When I actually realized what was going on I was stupid to start this,” Patterson said.

Fortunately, he said he was smart enough not to take the bait and didn’t send any money.

“Well, I was afraid people older than I am and more naive, might have given them that last answer they wanted and they’d be out of money that they didn’t need to lose either,” he said.

On the website of Global Greengrants Fund — there is a warning about this scam.

GGF says it is not a financial assistance program for individuals, but a nonprofit for environmental and human rights causes. GGF says if you are a victim to one of these scams, to notify your local police or sheriff’s office and contact the Federal Trade Commission.

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