The National Grant Conferences, for a time, garnered a bit of attention as a way for prospective grant applicants to get their foot in the door towards receiving low interest loans and full grants for potential projects.
The conferences, which generally took place during the early to mid-2000s, operated by hosting day-long or even multiple day seminars in areas all around the country, led by company reps, and supposedly for the purpose of providing expert advice that would eventually lead to approved federal government grants for attendees. Applicants were told about the varying grants they could qualify for and were then given a coach or mentor, as well as software products to assist with their application process, to point them in the right direction for receiving their desired funds. All of these services, naturally, required a fee which was either a pre-requisite for attending the conferences, or required afterwards to receive additional information, or to have any questions answered about the grant process.
There were several problems with the National Grant Conferences from the start. While it's certainly true that the federal government does distribute grants and loans to individuals who properly apply through the right channels, there was no evidence whatsoever that attending these seminars, (as well as paying the required $1,000 minimum fee), did anything to improve a potential grantee's chances of receiving funds.
The other problem attendees encountered was the hard, sales-pitch atmosphere of the conferences. Representatives from other companies were on hand promoting "home business" opportunities in addition to the standard grant information, encouraging attendees to sign up for their programs, and of course, spend a large amount of additional money to do so in the process. Specific vendors changed depending on region and conference schedule, but just as an example, one of these partner companies, Unim LLC, racked up numerous complaints, with some attendees claiming to have lost $10,000 or more as a result of signing up for these "bonus" opportunities.
The complaints against the National Grants Conferences were far reaching and varied, from clients who received misinformation on what grants they could receive, (and the actual probability of receiving them), to attendees who were misinformed on the compatibility of the National Grants Conferences' software products. One attendee won a chunk of his money back after investing a little over $4,000 in the program and being told, repeatedly and by varying reps, that the software provided to help identify and fill out grant applications was Macintosh compatible. (It wasn't at all.) Lawsuits were filed across the country, and the Federal Trade Commission even stepped in to review the wave of rising issues.
In December of 2008, the company behind the National Grant Conferences, Proven Method Seminars, LLC, filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and was officially out of business by December 2009, according to the Better Business Bureau. By that time, many lawsuits were in process, filed by both individual victims and even states, in an effort to recover innumerable lost fees.
Obviously, the National Grants Conferences are now defunct, but this doesn't mean that the threat of potential grant applicants being taken advantage of by third-party companies is extinct. This is exactly why grant applicants need to use the utmost care and caution when enlisting the help of other companies or supposed professionals to identify and apply for potential grants.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a wealth of consumer information, found here, which indicates red flags for whether or not a third-party grant assistance company is legitimate. Essentially, according to the FTC, applicants should be on the lookout for the following.
Request for bank account information: Never give out your personal information, including Social Security number and bank account information, to a company that pressures you to do so without a valid and legitimate reason. This request is a big indication that the company is operating a scam and may potentially be trying to steal your money and/or identity.
Paying money for a "free" government grant: The federal government requires no processing fees for awarded grants, or any fees for obtaining a list of grants available. (You can find a complete list of federal grants available, which can be filtered by applicant type, subject, government agency, or assistance type, here.) As such, any company that says such a fee is required is simply trying to extract money from applicants.
Potential False Phone Numbers and Identities: If you receive a cold call or a call from someone claiming to be from a reputable agency, be sure to do a little investigating. Some callers from grant scams may identify themselves as representatives from the "Federal Grants Administration," but this is not the case. (In fact, there is no such thing as a Federal Grants Administration.) In addition, more advanced scammers may alter their phone numbers to appear as if they are calling from the Washington, DC area when they could be calling from anywhere around the globe. Use caution, and be sure to sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry, to further secure yourself from receiving invalid calls in the future.
When in doubt, contact the FTC: Grant applicants who think they may be a victim of a government grant scam can file a complaint online with the Federal trade Commission at https://ftccomplaintassistant.gov/, or call 1-877-FTC-HELP for additional assistance.
Remember that the old adage "If it's too good to be true, it probably is," is a good rule of thumb, and certainly comes into play when it comes to third-party grant assistance programs. Potential applicants should always do their research, and keep an eye out for potential scam triggers, to ensure that their application process towards receiving a federal grant goes smoothly, and is free and clear of any unintended and potentially debilitating extra costs.