Woman falls victim to Facebook college grant scam

U.S. & World

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A young Knoxville woman in need of a student loan lost several hundred dollars after she believed she had received a free grant.

The initial information came from a so-called “friend” on Facebook, but there was no friend – it was a scam.

She called WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare to share her story and warn others.

She says she couldn’t afford to lose the money, but has no way of getting it back. There area wide variety of grant scams out there and it may not be easy to identify them.

One thing to remember is that you should never be asked for money in order to “apply” for a grant, or to “receive” one.

Legitimate grants will be free and information about them will be readily available online.

In Knoxville, Saree Rangel, a second-year student at a local community college, went online last month searching for student loan grants.

Within a few hours, Rangel received a message on Facebook from what she believed was a high school friend about a grant she had received.

“She had got a grant for college that you don’t have to pay the money back. I asked her if it was legit? She was like ‘yes, I got this lump sum of money,’” Rangel said.

The Facebook page of that so-called high school friend had been cloned, but Rangel didn’t know it at the time. In one of the messages, there’s a name and number to call about the grant. So, she starts corresponding with a Hodges McIwain.

“I talked to him, I’m like, ‘hey, I’d like to apply for your grant because I need help going to school,’” Rangel said. “He texted me the next morning saying I’d have to answer a couple of questions.”

She’s kept all the messages from McIiwain, the name used by the scammer.

“He told me, after he asked me certain questions, that I’m qualified for $20,000,” she said. “I thought it was a blessing.”

Her mother, Ezralita, agreed in thinking the money was a blessing.

“I was elated, very excited,” said Ezralita Robinson.

But there was a catch to get this alleged $20,000 – Rangel was told she had to go buy $200-worth of Google gift cards. She was directed to scratch off the numbers and send a picture of the cards to Hodges McIwain, who also wanted another $50.

Now the second part of the scam. Since they had her hooked, could they get her to pay even more money? So, she gets a text from a Terrel Daniels claiming he’s with FedEx and he’ll be delivering her money for the grant.

She said she was confused because Daniels said before delivering the package, he needed to be paid a $150 delivery fee with Google cards.

“I was like ‘I don’t pay the FedEx person if I’m doing this,’” Rangel recalls. “Then he had an attitude. He was saying, like he was saying, like slang, like someone my age would say.”

Con artists follow a familiar script to get you to make payments to them. Here are tell-tale lines:

  • “You’ve been selected to receive a grant.”
  • “This grant scholarship is guaranteed.”
  • “We’ll do all the work. But you just pay a processing fee.”
  • “The grant will just cost you a one-time fee.”

Rangel realizes now that grants are free. And, free means you don’t have to pay any money.

“Go on actual grant sites. Talk to people at the school,” she said. Rangel says she hopes others learn from her mistake.

Her mother agrees: “Be watchful of your kids, go into detail. Make sure you know the websites.”

Here are some things to know about government grants:

  • Applications and information about them are free
  • All government grants involve an application process, as do most grants
  • You won’t likely get a response within hours, as it may take a month or more time.
  • There are no fees associated with applying for government grants.
  • The only official access point, for all federal grant-making agencies, is grants.gov

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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