KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — When the pandemic first hit last year, millions of small businesses felt the immediate impact. So, the CARES Act was passed to provide economic relief. However, scammers were quick to take action, claiming money was available through the Small Business Administration in the form of economic injury disaster loans.

A Knoxville woman nearly fell for this small business grant scam. Going so far as to provide personal information to the would-be scammer. At first, she said, it sounded legitimate, before realizing the supposed loan she was eligible for was a hoax.

On her days off, Patti Vergerio keeps her 7-year-old grandson Alex busy with reading books and playing games. While she enjoys the time with him, there are nagging problems. The home she inherited from her late mother needs a lot of repairs. So, when she received a message from “Ernie Horner” on Facebook about a loan, she was interested in the possibilities.

Vergerio says, “Well he says you can get grants for housing. Ten, twenty-thousand dollars for housing, the government has all kinds of grants that you can get.”

She adds that she does need help with the housing. Her mother passed away in September, and now she needs help with the house. The man said all you have to do is apply for the grants, with a few pieces of information and they’ll be happy to help.

At first, Vergerio felt at ease with the offer believing it was on the up-and-up. “I’ve heard before online and just in general, the government does have grants for people with housing, so it sounded legitimate.”

Quickly, she got back to Horner saying she wanted to apply, and within minutes a response arrived. That response stated that she qualified, and now all she had to do was send the front and back of your driver’s license. That’s when Vergerio sent pictures showing the front and back of her driver’s license. Then, she felt something was wrong.

“So, that was my big boo-boo. My biggest boo-boo, you might say,” says Vergerio. “Then, low and behold, after that he said, ‘if you give us $5,000 you can make up to $30,000. I thought, oh my God, I gave this guy my driver’s license number.”

Realizing her mistake, she showed us notes of people she called: her bank, her credit card company,
then she went to Facebook and reported the scam. The picture she received of Ernie Horner was fake and there is no group in Washington called Government Organization, so, she then blocked that account.

Facebook says accounts and pages that impersonate other people go against their community standards and aren’t allowed on the platform. If you see an account that’s pretending to be you, or someone you know report potentially impersonating accounts to Facebook. If you’re aware you’ve been scammed, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the buyer or the seller, give Facebook a heads up so they can investigate.

Vergerio has contacted the Driver’s License Bureau telling them what she did. She’s changed her credit card information and her bank has issued an alert watching her account for any irregularities, so far, no money has disappeared.