| Caveat Emptor


Millions of single parents in America are using limited resources for the care of their children.  Therefore, it isn’t surprising to learn that many of these parents are looking for financial assistance from numerous sources including federal agencies, community based organizations, as well as state and local authorities.

In these tough economic times parents whose budgets are already stretched thin by the high cost of food, petrol and education are desperate for immediate relief in addition to securing the tools to implement long-term solutions to their budgetary constraints.

Since lending has become increasingly difficult because of tighter restrictions on credit worthiness, people are seeking access to sources of money which does require repayment.  With regard to federal programs such as food stamps and housing assistance, many federally based organizations have taken their agencies online to allow parents to better plan for their appointments and facilitate an ease of use in completing applications so that they no longer have to waste time from work to apply.

My son attends a private school which does not provide financial aid.  During this past year it has become increasingly difficult for me to make the monthly tuition payments, so I decided to see if I could locate grant money to pay for his education.  I am pretty Internet savvy and most of the sites that I found were immediately dismissed as scams.  I also visited many legitimate federal sites and eventually discovered the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA).

However, as a working mom tasked with a full-time job in technology and a full-time job as a parent the thought of searching through this catalog to identify the grants applicable to my needs was daunting.  As if in answer to prayer, my sister who works for a United States Senator and knows how much I struggle, forwarded a link to an officious website titled Free Government Grants 2011.

As I typed in the address of the website I felt that it was legitimate because the header page   displayed the White House flanked by two American flags.  As I scrolled to the bottom of the page I noted that the site displayed a Copyright © 2000-2011 Gov Grants USA. Org.  These attributes provided the patina of legitimacy that convinced me to take advantage of the Free Grant Kit offer.

This is when I should have remembered one of my mother's favorite sayings, "free things cost too much!"  The site advertised a minimal fee of $2.97 for postage and handling to receive a Free Grant Kit  containing a list of 1,000 Federal Government grants, plus immediate access to their online database.  I calculated that the price of the kit was worth the risk even if  the resource subsequently proved unfruitful.

I used my credit/debit card to make the purchase and then proceeded to use the site.  Through this site I found a link to another website called the Foundation Center.  This is an absolutely fabulous resource which I highly recommend as it provides the subscriber with immediate access to its database of certified foundations that provide grants to individuals.

Upon completion of the subscription payment the Foundation Center accounting department immediately sent a receipt unlike Grant Assist Services.  Though I did not receive a receipt for the $2.97 transaction I was unconcerned as it was such a small amount. All was well until my bank called me to notify me of suspicious activity on my card.  Apparently a company based in Malta charged me a VISA international assessment fee of $.02 and subsequently charged $57.93.

I was shocked and immediately wanted to dispute the charges as fraudulent.  However, my bank informed me that I had to first contact the company to determine if the charges were valid. My bank would only begin the dispute process if I could prove that I didn't provide them with my card information through a purchase.

The customer service representative from my bank also informed me that if I gave the company my card information for any reason or any purchase no matter how minimal and if I didn't read the 'Terms and Conditions' then I was fully liable for any charges the company may subsequently levy.  On midnight of the 7th day this Malta based company submitted an Automatic Clearinghouse Payment (ACH) to my bank for $57.93.

I was livid and immediately contacted the company through the email form provided on the website.  A disclaimer stated that all billing dispute had to be addressed in this manner.  After several contentious emails the company informed me that my 7 day "free" trial expired and that I was therefore liable for the membership fee per the 'Terms and Conditions.'

Though this company's approach to generating revenue is technically not illegal it is  in my opinion immoral. Even with my vociferous protestation my bank informed me that there was nothing they could do to help me recoup my loss.  Since the grant resource company was steadfast in their refusal to refund my money I decided to use my story as an object lesson and cautionary tale for other parents seeking grant money.

Revenge is a dish best served cold and thus a week after this unpleasantness, I decided to exact justice utilizing my "pen which is mightier than the sword." ~ Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Caveat Emptor!  I hope this post will help other parents to avoid this particular website and to thoroughly investigate any websites that claim to provide grant resource services for a minimal fee. Additionally, if you are not sure the complete identity and location of the company from whom you are purchasing goods or services you should confirm if they are using a third-party billing service which also has the right to charge additional fees and charges  to process your purchase.

Finally, protect yourself by paying for online purchases by using PayPal and remember to always read the fine print of the 'Terms and Conditions" of every online purchase you make.