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Mail-order scams – Feeding false hopes

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Dozens of foundations that either don’t make grants to individuals or do so only for restricted college scholarships programs are being swamped with letters from individuals who bought mailing lists from companies selling false hopes of free money, The New York Times reported Feb. 13.

The mail-order firms, charging from $19.95 to $49.95, suggest that grants are easy to get, the Times said.

“There are literally hundreds of private foundations that are anxious to donate money to people who have genuine reasons for needing the money,” a typical solicitation says. “Many foundations are not with what you wish to use the money for as long as it is something legal, and this means that you may obtain the money to pay off bills, go on vacation, meeting emergency need or buy anything that you need.”

Some firms use direct-mail pitches, some offer their lists on the Web and some buy ads in weekly newspapers or free publications, the Times said.

“Scams promising government grants were the hot thing 10 or 15 years ago, but not it seems to be foundation grants,” Tracy Thorleifson, a lawyer in Seattle for the Federal Trade Commission, told the Times. “What makes this particular scam so egregious is that it preys on the hope of desperate people. Letter after letter says, ‘We’re about to lose our house,’ ‘You’re our last hope,’ ‘My child has been hospitalized,’ ‘My husband left me.’

The Council of Foundations has collected thousands of the letters and given them to Thorleifson, hoping the government will move to end the “free grants” firms.

Saying she could neither confirm nor deny any action the FTC might be looking at, she added that some firms seemed to violate federal law barring unfair or deceptive trade practices.

Some local authorities already have taken action.

For full story, go to The New York Times.

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