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News5 viewer avoids losing money to 'government relief dollars' pitch by reaching out

Linda was offered $14,000 in. All she had to do was pay $200 up-front. Consumer protection experts are calling it a scam.
News5 viewer avoids losing money to government money pitch by reaching out
Posted at 5:00 AM, Nov 14, 2023

COLORADO SPRINGS — As we head into the holiday season, a time when budgets can be strained… Getting a call, text, or email out of the blue saying you qualify for government money is a pitch you might be tempted to listen to. Consumer protection experts say it’s likely a scam.

Would an extra $14,000 from the government deposited into your bank account make a difference in your life? That was the pitch from a random caller to one of our viewers.

Linda sent me an email recently because she wasn’t sure if that call was legitimate. It reads in part…

“… I received a call about a Government Relief Fund that supposedly was from a bill signed by President Biden last year. I am told that I qualified for $14,000.00 that I do not have to pay taxes on or that I do not have to pay back…”

This got Linda’s attention, but if she wanted that money the caller said she had to take action. The email continued…

“…it will be sent via Western Union Moneygram, but I have to pay $200 dollars for Western Union’s service fee… … I ‘m supposed to call when I get to the store so they can tell me what to request and do.”

After reading this I contacted Linda right away urging her not to pay. I also connected her with an investigator at the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado who believes this has all the signs of a scam.

”Scammers often use urgency. Hey, it’s very urgent. This program is shutting down, or it just opened and you want to be one of the first to get in there. I think seniors often fall prey to this scam,” said Paul Myers-Bennett at the BBB of Southern Colorado.

The Federal Trade Commission says these are the things to know about government money scams:

  • The government won’t contact you randomly to tell you that you qualify for money that you haven’t applied for.  
  • Don’t ever pay money to get money. This is a red flag that it’s bogus.
  • Don’t verify personal or banking information in this random interaction. This could provide crooks with what they need to open accounts in your name, or drain your bank account. 
  • If you do realize you paid a scammer act quickly to try to get that payment reversed.
  • But be aware the crooks often ask for payments through money transfers, cryptocurrency and gift cards to make it difficult to reverse the payments once they happen. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is also warning consumers about this: https://www.hhs.gov/grants-contracts/grants/avoid-grant-scams/index.html

“Some folks think you know, even if this could be a scam, is it worth it if I spend $200 to get $14,000? And the honest truth of it is, no it’s not. Wouldn’t you rather have that $200 in your pocket?” said Myers-Bennett.

Fortunately, we managed to convince Linda to stop corresponding with the person behind the government money pitch and she didn’t lose any money. It’s a good example of why it’s always a good idea to hop off of a phone call, or step away from that message that seems suspicious to talk to someone you trust.

If you’re having trouble finding someone to have that conversation with, or you just want to help us get the word out on an issue you’re experiencing, you can always reach out to me here at the station by giving us a call, or sending an email.

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