Bob Weir went into it with his eyes open.
As a big business manager turned small business advisor, he had been in the game long enough to know the operators of a website claiming to offer a fast track to government grants may not have had his best interests at heart.
But when curiosity got the better of him and some of his clients began questioning the integrity of what they believed was the government-affiliated website, Weir handed over his $500 fee and waited to learn how many grants his operation, Under 5 Small Business, could be eligible for.
He was left wanting.
“I got nothing of any use that I couldn’t have got free from government websites,” he says.
Weir says all the testimonials that appeared on the grants site, which operates across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Canada, were from clients who had not given permission for their details to be used.
“I rang almost all of them. Some were seeking legal action to get their details removed. The operators had appeared on a consumer advocate television program in New Zealand that chases down shonky operators. I did a fair bit of digging to try and track these guys down with no luck.”
Government grants providers do not cold call people to offer grants. [These] grants are awarded based on merit – you can’t buy special access or consideration by paying a third party.
Weir has since done all he can to alert small business owners about the rogue enterprise, posting details of the scam across social media and launching complaints with the relevant authorities.
While this particular site offered no guarantee of a favourable outcome, other bogus operations reported by the Australian Competition and Consumers Commission have seen scammers actively contact businesses to advise them they have been successful in receiving a grant. The scammers request a fee to release grant funds but cut communication once the fee is paid.
An AusIndustry media spokesperson, whose department provides assistance to Australia’s 2.1 million businesses via a contact centre and national outreach network, says small businesses should be wary of any website offering grant-related services in exchange for a fee.
“Government grants providers do not cold call people to offer grants. [These] grants are awarded based on merit – you can’t buy special access or consideration by paying a third party.”
All available state, territory and federal government grant information can be accessed for free via the Grants & assistance tab on the AusIndustry website.
The spokesperson says businesses deciding to engage a third party provider to help write a grant application do so at their own risk.
“The Government neither encourages nor discourages this. If your business chooses to use the services of a third party to help you prepare your grant application, however, make sure you choose a reputable one.”
Tracey Porter is a career journalist whose mug shot appears everywhere from daily newspapers and online news sites to business and consumer magazine titles.