Not content with impersonating IRS agents, phone scammers now are pretending to work for the National Institutes of Health and telling victims that they’ve won an NIH grant but must pay a fee in order to get the money.
The scam is a variation of the broader scheme in which fraudsters impersonate employees of various government agencies. The goal is to establish trust with the victim and fool him into either handing over some money directly or divulging personal information, such as bank account and routing numbers. In the latest scheme making the rounds, fraudsters are calling victims to congratulate them on winning an NIH grant of $14,000.
There’s one small hitch though: The lucky winners have to pay a fee, in the form of an iTunes gift card, in order to get the grant money. That’s not the way the government does business, nor does it hand out grants to people who didn’t apply for them.
“If you get a call like this from someone asking you to pay money to get money, stop. Hang up the phone. The federal government will not call you to give you a grant. NIH does give grants to researchers, but they have to apply for them, and those grants are for public purposes, not for personal use,” Cristina Miranda of the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education said in an alert on the new scam.
“Also, the federal government will never call you, demanding that you give your personal or financial information – like your bank account or Social Security number.”
Phone fraud groups have been impersonating government agents and employees for many years and most often will pretend to be calling from the IRS. Those scams typically involve threatening victims with fines or jail for supposedly not paying their taxes. But there are other versions, too.
In April the FTC shut down a scam in which a Florida man named Daniel Croft allegedly was pushing fake tech support services on victims by pretending to be affiliated with the FTC itself.
“Since at least July 2016, Defendant Croft, who purports to run a technical support company called PC Guru Tech Support or PC Guru, has been deceptively marketing, advertising, promoting, and offering for sale technical support services by falsely representing to consumers that he is affiliated with the FTC and that he has been appointed by the FTC to contact consumers to provide technical support services,” the complaint against Croft says.