Beware of government grant scams

22 July 2016

Scamwatch is warning Australian consumers and small businesses to take extra care when seeking government grants and to be suspicious of unsolicited offers of money in the form of government grants.  

If you are looking for grants to support or start a business be cautious of websites offering access to databases of government grants for a fee. These websites often give the impression they have government affiliation by using prominently-placed official logos, links to genuine government websites and photos of well-known Australians or landmarks.

However, the fees charged by such sites are unnecessary because this information is made available for free on government websites. Reports to Scamwatch also indicate that even if you pay the fee, you may find that there is no grant available for your business.

Legitimate information about government grants can be obtained for free at www.business.gov.au and other websites ending with .gov.au.

Consumers and small businesses also need to be cautious of phone calls claiming you are entitled to a grant in return for an upfront fee. Scammers may claim to be from a fake government department and offer you thousands of dollars because of a recent change to government policy. Sometimes the scammers have already obtained a few of your personal details such as name and address which they will use during the call to make it seem legitimate. However, to claim the money you must first pay an “administration” fee usually via wire transfer. If you pay, the scammers will make up excuses for why you need to send more.

How these scams work

Websites:

  • These scams operate through websites which charge a fee for services offered freely by government or charge for services they never deliver.
  • The website may give the impression of government affiliation but the fine print will usually show there are no guarantees of a grant and they are just selling a service.
  • You are asked to pay using credit card details over the phone to get access to the database only to find that the information was available for free on an official government site.
  • Some businesses reported having paid the fee only to find that there are no suitable grants available despite having been told they were eligible for grants.

Phone calls:

  • You receive a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be a government official. Scammers even claim to be from fictitious departments such as the ‘Australian Government Grants Department’.
  • The scammer claims that you are entitled to a refund or compensation for overpaid taxes, bank fees or rebates. To make it appear legitimate, the scammer may claim that the money you are owed is connected to topical issues or government programs such as solar panels, changes to the pension or natural disasters. 
  • In order to receive your money, the scammer claims that you have to pay money upfront to cover administration fees or taxes.
  • The scammer will typically ask you to send the money via a money transfer service.
  • You may also be asked to provide personal or financial details.
  • If you pay, you will never see your money again.

Protect yourself

  • Be suspicious if you receive a call about a grant you did not apply for. Hang up immediately! The Government does not cold call offering grants and does not charge a fee to release grant funds.
  • Be cautious if you are contacted out of the blue by any government department requesting personal information—it may be a scam. Always contact the department independently before responding using contact details from a trusted source.
  • Visit Business.gov.au to find out about government grant information for small businesses.
  • Australian government websites use the '.gov.au' extension – not .org, .net or .com.
  • Government services are never paid via wire transfer.
  • Never send your personal, credit card or banking details in an email or over the phone—scammers can use your details to commit identity fraud or steal your money.
  • If you think you have provided your account details to a scammer, contact your bank or financial institution immediately.

Report

You can report scams to the ACCC via the Scamwatch Report a scam page. 

More information

ACCC public warning notice about government grants website

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