PHOENIX — A few people have emailed the Let Joe Know Team that they've received emails or messages from friends about a government assistance program that's supposed to help people financially impacted because of the ongoing pandemic.
It is real? It is fake? How do you know?
Frankie Jo told me that she was contacted by a friend on her Facebook page. That friend wanted her to know about a government freedom grant.
"She says it's good for people who need money to pay bills for buying a home, getting business, going to school," said Frankie Jo.
And the friend claims that she raked it in, allegedly receiving $250,000.
"Come on," Franke Jo says with a smile.
Because of the large sum of money, and that the message came from a friend she rarely talks to, Franke Jo knew that her friend's account had been hacked and that that this was a scam.
But, it is the timing of the message, that could make someone believe that that particular grant was legitimate.
The government has been handing out money for more than a year to help those throughout the pandemic, from rental assistance to a business loan, unemployment, pandemic unemployment, or a stimulus payment.
Alice emailed me and said a man called her about a program. That man claimed Alice could use the money to pay bills and would never have to pay it back.
But, in order to receive the money, she would have to pay some money to cover fees and other costs.
Alice sent the money, but never received the payment the man told her she would receive. It was likely a scam.
Whenever you have to pay money, that is a tell-tale sign of a scam. And once that money is transferred via an app, wire transfer, it's practically the same as cash.
Frankie Jo wanted to expose the Facebook scam that went after her.
So, during a Zoom interview with her, I called the number she'd been given.
"Hi my name is Joe and I'm calling about that "Freedom Grant,'" I told the person on the phone.
It was a scam and it played out like scams usually do.
I quickly got a text from a "special agent" working for the government.
"Are you ready to apply for your grant offer now?" he asked.
The scammer sent me a form asking for my address, driver's license, monthly income, whether or not I have a vehicle, and other information.
Even after using my ABC15-issued work email address and the station's address, the scammer had great news -- I qualified.
"You qualify to receive the grant money. I am so much happy for you," said the text.
There were no taxes. The scam was all about getting me to pay a delivery fee, which was $1,000 to receive $50,000 in return.
For a $10,000 delivery fee, I would apparently receive up to $1 million.
The scammer said I could pay the fee via Zelle, a popular money-transfer app, or Bitcoin. He also provided an email address.
I asked him to talk to me and prove he's real and -- to my surprise -- he called.
The scammer said he lived in Washington D.C., that the grant was a real program, and that I would not have to pay the money back.
He wanted me to transfer that money. I wanted to call him out, so I did.
"I think you're a fake," I told him.
He hung up before I had the chance to tell him what I really thought about what he was doing.
I was able to at least call him a scammer in a text and he called back four times, hungry for money that he probably conned so many others out of.
I don't think that will change his behavior, but I hope by showing how these scams work, it helps more people to question these similar offers -- and save their hard-earned money.
Many times, seniors are prime targets for these kinds of scams. Talk to them about it.
When your Facebook account has been hacked, it's possible all of your contacts, friends, and connections can be accessed by scammers.
Tips to remember:
- Change your password frequently and make it difficult for other people to guess
- If you have to put money upfront, that's a huge sign of a scam
- Remember, when you send money via an app, wire transfer, or gift card, it's like cash and once it's gone, it's gone.