A couple of weeks ago, we received an e-mail from a reader asking us to look into sites advertising free government grants. As we pointed out in our response there’s only one legitimate site for federal grants, www.grants.gov.
But when we Googled "free government grants," we found a slew of other dubious-looking sites claiming to be the real deal as well. Since there are far too many of these sites to cover in one post, here’s the first in what promises to be a long-running series of exposés on these “free government grant” sites.
Today, we take a look at “USA Government Grants,” which was the second Google result, right after www.grants.gov. The site's tagline says: “Each day millions of dollars in Free Government Grants are given away to people just like you for a wide variety of Business and Personal Needs.”
The site itself is bare bones, just a homepage topped by the header “You Can Claim Thousands of Dollars In Government Money With No Obligations,” along with a list of links on the right, all of which outline various types of "free government grants," and all of which end with the following link: "Click Here To Receive Your Free Grant Package.”
Following this link takes you to an entirely different site, www.grantwritingexpress.com, which promises to help you “Claim Your Share of the $512 Billion of Free Money Given Away Every Year!” The site also features pictures of happy people thanking grant writing express for helping them realize their dreams with quotes like “I just received a check for $72,000 dollars!”
In order to qualify, you have to fill out a brief form asking for your name, income, type of grant you’re seeking etc. We filled it out several times, and received the same answer every time: “Congratulations! You qualify for a free CD! Use this CD to apply for your cash: $150 billion to start your own business! $97 billion to go to school! $144 billion to buy a home!”
As you may have guessed by now, this CD isn’t a certificate of deposit—it’s a compact disc. And there is, of course, a catch. While the CD is free, there’s a $3.95 shipping charge. But what probably isn’t apparent to cash-strapped consumers desperately scouring the Web for financial aid is the fine print at the bottom of the page (below the screen), which reads as follows:
“Special Bonus: Order your FREE CD today and receive a free 7 day trial enrollment in the Grant Writing Express Online Help Center which includes 24 Hour Email Access to Grant Specialists, Funding Instruction Courses, and Grant Sources Updated Daily. It also gives you access to our Grant Writing Specialists who are there to Quickly Answer Your Questions about the Grant Process. This membership continues at the low monthly rate of only $74.95 for as long as you need the help in your Grant Search and Application Process. You can stop your monthly subscription to the help center site anytime in the 7 days and you will not be billed anything. The free trial begins on the day the CD is ordered.”
Although the site does highlight certain sections of this "special bonus," they aren't the ones that mention the recurring "low monthly charge" of $74.95. More on this in a minute.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. While the Better Business Bureau has no record of USA Government Grants, they did have quite a lot to say about Grant Writing Express—as well as its sister sites. The first BBB report addresses Cheyenne-based “Ultimate Grant Secrets,” which runs both www.grantwritingexpress.com and www.ultimategrantsecrets.com, an identical site.
According to the BBB report, “consumers state that they are being charged $3.95 for shipping the Free CD. Upon attempting to contact the company to cancel the membership within the 7 day free trial period, phone calls and emails to the business are not answered or are not working.”
For this and other reasons, the BBB gives Ultimate Grant Secrets an "F" rating, which means: “We strongly question the company’s reliability for reasons such as that they have failed to respond to complaints, their advertising is grossly misleading, they are not in compliance with the law’s licensing or registration requirements, their complaints contain especially serious allegations, or the company’s industry is known for its fraudulent business practices.”
The other related BBB report concerns Clickincome Inc., a Utah-based company whose sites include the aforementioned www.grantwritingexpress.com, as well as www.clickincome.com, www.click2tradeonline.com and www.clicksitebuilder.com—all sites to avoid. The BBB says it’s processed no fewer than 358 complaints about Clickincome in the last 36 months, and notes it was fined $10,000 by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection in September 2008 failing to refund deposits within 30 days. Unsurprisingly, the BBB also gives Clickincome an F.
We also found numerous complaints about the sites in Ripoff Report, with headlines like "Ultimate Grant Secrets IS A RIP OFF", "Grant Writing Express Major ripoff multi company scam Internet", Grant Ventures LLC Total Ripoff Cheyenne Wyoming", and "I applied for a grant they took my money and found out it was a scam Cheyenne Wyoming".
But we’ll let the BBB have the last word, which included some sage advice about these free government grant scams, which are proliferating now that President Obama's stimulus package has been passed. Here’s an excerpt, but it’s worth reading in full:
“No matter what the ads say, no matter whether you see it on the Internet or in a newspaper or magazine ad, no matter if the ad has a picture of President Obama or Mickey Mouse, the "Free Government Grant" scam is not legitimate. It is a ploy to get you to part with your money. The current hook is to tie the Free Grant scam into Obama's Stimulus Package. Don't believe it. The government does not operate this way. If indeed you or your company qualify for any kind of grant money or government assistance, you can file for it yourself and there will not be any upfront fees.”