Knoxville woman loses $2,000 to grant scam

Investigations

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there’s been a spike in scams that offer so-called free money using the names of government organizations. The International Finance Corporation has issued a warning to be aware of savvy criminals who use Facebook Messenger and post claims to unsuspecting people that they may be eligible for free money.

A Knoxville woman fell victim to the scam. For Jenny Easterday, the opportunity for easy money seemed real. For many large organizations, over the last 16 months of the pandemic, there’s been an increased use of sophisticated forms and letterheads that appear to be legitimate government agencies.

A scam involving the International Finance Corporation Fund promises huge sums of money through grants, but all they want is your money and personal identification.

Just as Easterday’s terrier, Tink, trusts her for food and shelter, she says she once trusted information, especially if it came from family, but not anymore. Just recently, her brother Lee, at least she believed it was him, sent a text message about an amazing opportunity.

“We got to talking about a government grant that is going around and that he had gotten $500,000,” Easterday said. “It says this is a special program for those who need help paying bills, buying a home. And, for it and he had to pay $7,000 in order to get $500,000.” The money was supposed to be a free IFC grant, no strings attached. She says, “I could use the money myself because I’m widowed.”

The scammer posing as her brother sent her to a Diana K. Smith. “We chatted, me and this Diana K. Smith,” Easterday said. “She asked questions, my name and this, that and the other. I gave them everything, I thought it was honest because it came from my brother.”

Easterday says she sent a picture of her driver’s license to Diana Smith, and within minutes she was approved for the promise of big money. “I could get $300,000 for $5,000.” However, she didn’t have the money, and not wanting to lose out on her end of the scam, a list of some less expensive deals was sent.

“I could get $90,000 for $2,000. So, that’s what I did. I told her, I’d take the $90,000 because I figured, it came from my brother and it was legit. I even asked her if it was legit and she said yes.” Convinced it was real, Easterday followed directions and bought four $500 gift cards.

“And I took pictures of them and sent them to her. I asked her how soon it would be coming? She said, not long. Then it pops up, it comes up with this “beneficiary” thing. I said, beneficiary? She said, yes. I said, I didn’t appoint anybody a beneficiary. She said you’ll have to pay 7-thousand dollars in order to get a code. It would come up on Facebook and the money would come to you. You would have to have this code in order to unlock the money. It is crazy. They’re good. Whoever this is, they’re good.”

Realizing she had made a big mistake, Easterday called her brother at his home in Illinois. “I was reading to him what he was telling me on my messenger. He said it wasn’t me Jenny. I said, Lee it had your picture on it. He said, I’m telling you it was not me.”

Here are some IFC warnings:

  • The IFC says it has no involvement with these fake messages and websites.
  • The organization cautions everyone to be wary of false claims to be associated with the IFC or World Bank Group.
  • “Advanced fee” fraud scheme involve solitications that encourage potential victims to provide personal information or to pay money in advance; beware!

This scam is making the rounds. So, how can you avoid being ripped off? It’s pretty simple: if a friend or a relative contacts you about how they received a boat load of money, free, be very skeptical. Contact them, instead of replying to the Facebook message, call them on the phone first, it may save you a lot of heartburn and money.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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