Dear Dr. Per Cap: I live in Idaho and the other day I got a call from someone who told me the United States Treasury is offering special grants to Native Americans. When I asked how to apply the caller told me I needed to pay a fee. And get this: He wanted payment in the form of iTunes cards! It sounded really shady so I hung up. What gives?
Signed, Suspicious Native Lady
Dear Suspicious Native Lady,
You were smart to hang up! The phone call you received is a new scam targeted to Indian Country and I’ve personally spoken to folks in both South Dakota and Idaho who’ve gotten the same call. It’s malicious, it’s shameful, it’s an invasion of privacy, and it’s SO not cool. What’s even scarier is that whoever is perpetrating this outrageous fraud has somehow gotten ahold of contact info for Native people just like you. And yeah, iTunes cards, really?
One person I talked to was instructed to purchase $1,600 worth of iTunes credits online and then give the caller the confirmation numbers. Poor guy did just that and never heard from the caller again or received his so-called “grant.” Truth is, the federal government never randomly calls individual Native Americans, or anyone for that matter, and offers them a grant. Don’t we all wish that were true! Another reason this scam can be convincing is that the call comes from a Washington DC area code. But creating a fake area code that registers on your caller ID is known as “spoofing” and it’s quite common with scams coming from overseas.
As for the contact info – we live in the digital age now and the privacy we once knew has pretty much gone the way of standard transmissions and steel coke cans. It doesn’t take much effort for a scammer to snoop around on Facebook or some other social media channel to find out your hometown, employer, tribal affiliation, names and photos of friends and relatives, or the name of that awesome frybread stand at last week’s rodeo. So please, please be careful with what you post online about yourself and others.
And if you get another sketchy call from someone offering easy money, a free trip, or anything else that sounds too good to be true, tell ‘em you make money the old fashioned way – at a 50-50 fundraiser where your cousin’s in charge of the raffle tickets!