Phone scam: ‘You have been chosen to receive a $9,000 government grant…’

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‘It’s Eric from the Department of Government with your free money.”

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MANCHESTER, NH – Maybe this has happened to you: You’re sitting at home thinking about Christmas, or bills, or work-related stuff, when your cell phone rings.

You love to answer your cell phone because it’s usually someone you like, someone who has your number – it’s one of the perks of abandoning your landline in an age of wireless technology.

Related story: U.S. Marshals urge public to report phone scams to the FTC

But you see “No Caller ID” flashing on the incoming call screen. You hesitate to answer, but then you think back to other calls that register that way – often local police or other government agencies which have blocked incoming numbers.

You think about your loved ones, and hope nobody’s in trouble.

So you answer.

On the other end, a person with a heavy accent introduces himself as “Ahc Tomxyx” and you hear something about “congratulations” and “government grant money.”

I have received many of these calls lately. Sometimes the person on the other end is from the IRS and warning me that I’m going to be “very sorry” if I don’t respond to their calls.

This is probably what Eric Thomas really looks like.
This is probably what Eric Thomas really looks like.

But on Dec. 6, I learned (after asking him to repeat his name, twice) that it was “Eric Thomas” of the “U.S.  Government” who was congratulating me as one of only 1,500 people selected to receive a $9,000 government grant because of my “good record.”

I resisted the urge to hang up on Eric.

“Oh-kaaaaay?” I said.

“You pay your bills and taxes on time, you have had no criminal case for the last six months, and you are low income,” Eric said. “Now, this grant money – we don’t want you to misuse it for drugs, gambling and drinking. This comes once in your lifetime. We want you to use it for the good purpose of paying your bills, pay off your car, start a business, education, or go on a vacation.”

Eric had me at gambling and drinking.

But I already knew he was up to no good, so I started taking notes.

“All you have to do is submit your confirmation money card to the account manager and, within 10 or 20 minutes, once we verify your details, you can be approved,” Eric said.

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I resisted the urge to ask Eric what he was wearing.

I had questions.

“What department of the government did you say was giving away this money?” I asked.

“The Department of Government,” he said, with assurance. “The Government Grant Department.”

“And how long have you been giving out these grants?” I asked.

“Five years,” Eric said, without blinking.

“And where did you get my name?” I asked.

“We did a democratic survey. We select only 1,500 people to receive this money every year,” he explained.

I asked him what a “confirmation money card” is.

Eric first wanted to explain that he would explain that in a minute, but that he wanted to get my information confirmed first, “because we are getting so many complaints from you people, that you are not receiving your grant money, and we don’t want to make a mistake. So, you are in …. Nashua?” he said, struggling with the pronunciation of the place where I don’t live.

I told Eric that no, I was not in Nashua. I paused. The “guess again” was implied.

Then it sounded like he dropped the phone. When he returned, he guessed again.

“OK, so you are in New Hampshire, right? Where in New Hampshire are you?” he asked.

I told him I wasn’t comfortable giving him information by phone. And then I said I’d prefer to receive my government grant money application in document form.

I guess he was on to me. Six minutes into our conversation and, “click,”  Eric gave up, pulling the plug on my free government money dreams before I could ask what he was wearing.

He also got away before I could get his phone number or address, neither of which he would have given me. Or if he did, they would be fake 800-numbers and phony addresses.

I know this kind of phone scam is not new. And I know our local and state government agencies put out warnings all the time. Sadly, it’s not me I’m worried about.

It’s people, generally speaking older people, who may feel excited to know they’ve qualified for free government money just by living right. Or people who might want to do drugs, gamble or drink with their government windfall, despite their good record.

Or, in the case of calls from IRS scammers, I worry about those who might be intimidated if they don’t respond to Uncle Sam’s stern warning that they may be in trouble for a tax problem.

I actually know some people who’ve been scammed.

And I know that once you follow through by giving them information about  your bank account, your phone number, or even go so far as to buy a MoneyGram, aka “confirmation money card,” it’s too late. No one can help you recover what is lost.

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There are a few things you can do if you don’t want to get these calls, or if you want to prevent your mom or dad or grandparents from fielding them. Head over to the Federal Trade Commission website and enter your phone number and two other numbers (mom and dad would be a great place to start) which will get you on the “National Do Not Call” registry.

Then, talk to your loved ones, particularly mom, dad, or grandmom and grandpop, about these kinds of scams, and make sure you check back with them every now and again, to make sure they haven’t had any strange phone calls.

⇒ Click here to learn more about the FTC’s Pass it On program

You can also go to the NH Attorney General’s NH Consumer Alert site for tips and FAQS, including the current list of active scams that have been reported, which range from lawsuits, sweepstakes, mortgage and puppy scams, to U.S. mail and email scams. See below:

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!