At the request of the Federal Trade Commission and three state Attorneys General, a U.S. district court judge has stopped an operation from falsely claiming that it could help consumers secure a "$25,000 Grant" -- guaranteed -- from the U.S. government. The case is the latest in a Commission crackdown on scammers trying to capitalize on the economic downturn by targeting people facing financial hardship. The FTC is working with federal and state law enforcement agencies nationwide to bring such actions.
In a complaint filed this week, the FTC, jointly with the Attorneys General of Kansas, Minnesota, and North Carolina, charged that Grant Writers Institute, LLC and its related entities ( together, GWI ) falsely told consumers that they were eligible for grants as part of the recently announced economic stimulus package. The complaint alleged that the defendants' false and deceptive claims violate federal law, state consumer protection laws, and the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule. The complaint seeks a court order permanently stopping the defendants' illegal conduct and forcing them to return money to consumers injured by the scheme.
"Stamping out grant fraud and other types of schemes that take advantage of consumers in dire financial shape continues to be one of the Federal Trade Commission's highest priorities," said David Vladeck, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. "There is no such thing as a guaranteed grant. But to consumers in financial trouble, the chance for extra income – guaranteed or otherwise – can unfortunately be a huge draw."
According to the FTC, since at least 2007, GWI has mass mailed postcards to consumers across the country falsely claiming that the consumers "are Guaranteed a $25,000 Grant from the U.S. Government." Consumers who call the number are pitched a $59 book titled "Professional Grant Writer ‘The Definitive Guide to Grant Writing Success.'" The company's telemarketers falsely claim that the book will explain how to get government grants -- including the "guaranteed" $25,000 grant. GWI and its North Carolina-based telemarketers, also named as defendants in the complaint, then call consumers who have bought the book, trying to get them to pay hundreds of dollars or more for grant research, writing, or coaching services, falsely claiming a 70 percent success rate in securing grant funding. In reality, few, if any consumers ever receive any grant money.
The Commission contends that in addition to falsely claiming consumers were "guaranteed" to receive grants, GWI used the current government stimulus package to make its pitch. For example, when consumers called the number on the mass-mailed postcard, they heard a recording that said, "If you've been reading the papers you know that recently our government released $700 billion into the private sector. What you probably don't know is that there is another $300 billion that must be given away this year to people just like you." The recording continues, "And if you're one of the lucky few who knows how to find and apply for these grants, you will receive a check for $25,000 or more, and we guarantee it . . . If you don't get a check for $25,000 or more, you pay nothing."
The Commission vote to issue the complaint – jointly with the Attorneys General of Kansas, Minnesota, and North Carolina regarding the alleged telemarketing violations – was 4-0. The complaint contains additional charges and remedies to address state-specific violations.
It was filed on July 20, 2009, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, and the court granted the Commission's request for a temporary restraining order on July 22, 2009. The FTC thanks the state Attorneys General for their substantial contribution to investigating and filing this complaint.
The complaint announced today was filed against the following defendants: 1 ) Affiliate Strategies, Inc.; 2 ) Landmark Publishing Group, LLC ( d/b/a G.F. Institute and Grant Funding Institute ); 3 ) Grant Writers Institute, LLC; 4 ) Answer Customers, LLC; 5 ) Apex Holdings International, LLC; 6 ) Brett Blackman, individually and as an officer, manager, and/or member of Affiliate Strategies, Inc., Landmark Publishing Group, LLC, Grant Writers Institute, LLC, Answer Customers, LLC, and Apex Holdings International, LLC; 7 ) Jordan Sevy, individually and as a manager of Landmark Publishing Group, LLC; 8 ) James Rulison, individually and as president of Answer Customers, LLC, all located in Kansas.
In addition, the complaint names the following North Carolina entities as defendants: 1 ) Real Estate Buyers Financial Network LLC ( d/b/a Grant Writers Research Network ); 2 ) Martin Nossov, individually and as a manager and member of Real Estate Buyers Financial Network LLC; and 3 ) Alicia Nossov, individually and as a manager and member of Real Estate Buyers Financial Network LLC.
The Commission recently announced several other grant fraud cases as part of the "Operation Short Change" law enforcement sweep targeting economic stimulus frauds. More information about these cases can be found at: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/07/shortchange.shtm.