Small-business owners and entrepreneurs should be careful of websites that charge for grant-related services, when such assistance is already available for free.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) warns that some websites that offer easy access to government grants are not really lending a helping hand.
Paying for a cut and paste
Some third-party websites charge fees to lodge applications on behalf of business owners to access government grants, even though small business operators are able to apply for the same grants themselves and for free.
The subtle signs
When searching online for grants information it is easy to get side tracked by official sounding names, logos and web addresses.
If in doubt, remember that only Australian Government websites use the ‘gov.au’ extension.
Some commercial websites present very general material about government grant programs. They might use videos, news releases or testimonials to showcase successful grant recipients in a way that suggests the website is a service provided or endorsed by the government.
A closer inspection may reveal small disclaimers acknowledging no affiliation with the government, and that they were not involved in providing or securing the grant for successful applicants.
If you are thinking about applying for a grant, stick to the official government websites and ask a trusted advisor (such as a BEC, or your accountant) for information on where to get started.
Cold calling grants scams
In the past, the ACCC has also issued warnings about outright scams where small businesses are cold-called and offered a government grant. The scammer claims to represent the fictitious ‘Australian Government Grants Department’ and states that you have been successful in receiving a grant. The scammer requests a fee of $199 to release the grant funds and the victim ends up paying but does not receive anything in return.
To protect your business, make sure you keep these points in mind:
- all decisions about government grants are based on merit – you can’t pay for special access
- if you wish to use the services of a third party to help you prepare a grant application, choose a reputable service by doing your homework first
- the government does not cold-call people to tell them about grants
- the government does not accept payment via wire transfer
- be suspicious of any callers asking for your bank account details in return for offers of money.
The ACCC’s SCAMwatch, provides small businesses with further tips and advice on how to identify and avoid common scams.
This article was published in May 2014 on the Inside Small Business website.