WRAL Investigates

N.C. attorney general warns of grant schemes

Posted July 30, 2009 5:01 p.m. EDT
Updated July 30, 2009 6:52 p.m. EDT

— The state's attorney general is warning consumers to be wary of schemes involving government grants.

"In tough economic times, these scammers crawl out from under rocks and take advantage of desperate people," Roy Cooper said Thursday. "These scam artists are very good at what they do – deceive people into getting them to pay money up front to apply for government grants that don't exist."

North Carolina is one of three states which jointly filed a federal lawsuit this month claiming Real Estate Buyers Financial Network in Raleigh, as well as companies in Kansas and Minnesota, used post cards and other marketing strategies to guarantee up to $25,000 in federal stimulus grants that don't exist.

A judge has since frozen the company's assets, and the attorney generals of those states are working to put a stop to the alleged practice.

The lawsuit charges that the Raleigh company targeted consumers outside North Carolina, while several other companies in Kansas and Minnesota allegedly targeted North Carolina residents.

So far, 23 victims nationwide have been identified. Although it's still unclear how much money has been scammed, it's estimated to be thousands of dollars.

"We're going to work to get restitution for people who actually paid money," Cooper said.

Under the alleged scam, consumers would purchase, for a nominal fee, a "grant guide" containing information that is available for free. They would then be targeted to pay hundreds more dollars for a "grant coach" who would guide them through a process to receive the so-called grant, Cooper said.

"These people don't receive a dime of federal stimulus money. It's all a ruse. It's all deception," he said.

Real Estate Buyers Financial Network's chief executive officer, Martin Nossov, declined to comment Thursday.

Cooper said that since 2007, there have been 223 reported victims of grant scams.

"What's very frustrating about this is that (scammers) take a thread of truth and they weave a blanket of deception," Cooper said. "There's absolutely no guarantee of any grant from the government."

There are few grants available for individuals, Cooper said, and those that are, are usually competitive.

"The very best way we can fight them is to not to respond to what they're doing," Cooper said. "We're out there working hard to educate consumers: Never pay money up front. Don't listen to these types of offers. They're no good. You're throwing your money away."