Here's more or less how it went:
0823 PST my home phone rings. The caller ID reads PENNSYLVANIA 267-973-6174.
A heavily accented voice asks if this is Jeffrey Carr, and then proceeds to tell me that she's calling from the government grant department.
Oh, yes. I said. The government grant department. That's part of the U.S. Treasury, right?
"That's right Mr. Jeffrey. We just need to verify your information."
[The caller reads me my street address, city, state and zip code. All are accurate.]
"Now sir, would you like to receive your grant money on a credit card, debit card, pre-paid debit card, or in your bank account?"
Pre-paid debit card, I say, as I pull out my handy (and empty) pre-paid Visa gift card that I keep for calls just like these.
"Please read me the number, sir."
I read it off the card.
"And the last four digits of your social security number"
I invent 4 digits and give them to her.
I'm now told that I've been chosen to receive a grant of between $5,000 and $15,000. My government approval number is WA23134, and I'm to call the grant manager in Washington DC at (202) 738-4264.
We hang up. I now call the DC number.
RING RING RING RING RING RING RING RING
I must have let it ring 20 times. No answer.
A few minutes later, my home phone rings again.
The person I just spoke with is back and says that she'll try to connect me.
She tries twice and finally I get to speak with a grant manager named "Frank Martin", who's clearly of Indian descent. Mr. Martin wants to assure me that this program is very real, and asks me to write down the following information:
The Government Grants Office is located at 200 Independence Avenue, SW, Health and Human Services Building, Washington DC 20201. His government badge number is FM2586 and his phone number is (202) 738-4264.So, not the U.S. Treasury.
"Jeffrey", Frank says, "are you at your computer?"Yes.
"I want you to go to this website: grants.nih.gov"[I open a sandboxed browser.] OK, Frank. I'm there.
"Now see the search window on the right side? Type in my name - Frank Martin."Got it.
"Now see the 2nd entry where it says Frank Martin, and where it shows how much money I've given out in grants? That's me."
[This idiot didn't notice the "," between "frank" and "martin". The "frank, martin" he pointed me to is Martin Frank, Executive Director of the American Physiological Society.]
Oh, yes. You've given out a lot of money, Frank.
"Yes, Jeffrey, and because you've been a good taxpayer, we want to give you $14,566. Now, what is your date of birth?"
I give him a DOB a few years and a few months off from my own.
"Oh, you don't sound that old, Jeffrey. You sound like you're only 20 or 22 years old! OK, let me verify all of your information because this is a lot of money and we want to make sure that you are really who you say you are."
The line is quiet for 10 seconds while he verifies my fake DOB, fake last 4 digits of my SS, etc.
"Very good, Jeffrey. Now may I ask what you'll be using the grant money for?"
A cruise. Is that allowed?
"A cruise? Sure. You can take a cruise, buy a car, anything you like. It's your money. Just don't use it for any illegal activities!"
Oh, no. Not me.
"So now we are at the verification step. You must go to a store near you and send me a verification voucher. Because, you know, there are a lot of Jeffrey Carr's in the United States. We can't risk giving money to the wrong Jeffrey Carr! Do you have a Rite-Aid or something like that near you?"
How about Walmart?
"No, not Walmart. Wait, I'll check for you. OK, I see that you're close to a QFC store. How long will it take you to drive there?"
Oh, about 20 minutes.
"Do you have a cell phone?"
I can borrow one from my neighbor.
"OK, go to the store and then call me from the parking lot. I'll tell you exactly how to do the verification voucher and then I'll stay on the line until you see the money has been transferred to your pre-paid Visa card."
"Now Jeffrey, you need to bring three things with you: a picture ID, a cell phone with a charged battery, and $275 in cash which is a fully-refundable verification fee. You understand what "fully-refundable" means, Jeffrey?"
"So after you send us the voucher verification, your fee is then refunded back on your Visa card along with your grant money. See, we have to do it this way because it would be fraud if we asked you to send us money from your checking account or from your credit card and we aren't trying to defraud you. Only bad people ask you to send money from your bank account. That's we ask for cash."
Yes, cash is much better, Frank. Thank you.
[So now that Frank is done with his pitch, it's my turn to have some fun.]
By the way, Frank, are you at your computer?
Well, you've been so nice sharing information about yourself, I thought you might want to see who I am. Do you know Google.com? Just type in "Jeffrey Carr". I'll be the first name that comes up.
"I'm sorry, Jeffrey. My computer doesn't seem to be working right now. "
Oh, that's OK, Frank. When your computer is working again, just go to Jeffreycarr.com, and you can read all about this little fraud of yours online.
Frank? Are you there?
The FTC has a page for Free Grant Fiction here. This seems to be the latest iteration.