Oliver: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is – even from ‘friends’

When you work in the news business, you hear about a lot of scams.

Oftentimes, police agencies and government officials reach out with news releases to warn the community about potential rip-offs.

Scammers pose as police officers who are raising money. Or they say they’re from the IRS and ask for personal information, even though the government doesn’t contact people that way.

Worst of all are the scams that prey on our senior citizens. The one that always gets me really mad is the one where someone poses as a grandchild who has been in a car accident or needs bail money.

These days one can’t be too careful. Unscrupulous people are going to take every opportunity to either get our personal information or find a way to make us part with our hard-earned money.

Having said all that, you’d think that I’d be able to see a scam from a mile away.

I recently got a message on the social media app Messenger from one of my high school friends. I’ve connected with her on Facebook, but we don’t chat very often.

I didn’t think too much of it when it was a breezy “Hi, how are you doing?” After all, every now and then I hear from people who are checking in on me and Tony.

I did think it was slightly peculiar that she was using her Instagram account to send me the message, but since it was the same Facebook photo that I was used to seeing, I shook off the concern.

I responded with a noncommittal response, mostly because her original message was vague as well.

Then she asked me whether I had heard about a “world humanitarian grant” program. Again, while this should have set off alarm bell, it didn’t, mainly because I’ve had other friends tell me about grants for people with Alzheimer’s. My friend also is a librarian, so it’s plausible that she would run across grant opportunities. I responded that I had not and asked for more information.

Then the alarm bells really started to go off. She said she had been able to receive $100,000 and was sure that I’d be eligible. However, she would need to “help” me with the application.

I assumed this had to do with the COVID-19 pandemic and replied that I didn’t think I’d be eligible since my situation predated it.

She then insisted that, of course, I would be eligible, but I needed to apply right away. She then sent a link that I was supposed to follow to get to the application.

That’s when I figured out I was probably getting conned. I went into full-on “get me out of here” mode, and said I’d look into it, but I’d deal with it the next day.

In the meantime, I reached out to my friend via Facebook and asked if she had been contacting me about a grant. She was horrified to hear that her information was being used in this way.

The next day, the scammers asked whether I had started my application. I immediately blocked the account and reported it.

As it turns out, this scam is one that the Better Business Bureau ( warns people about. In August 2020, they had a posting: “Watch out for Facebook ‘friends’ pushing phony COVID grants.”

According to the BBB, the scammers are either hacking social media accounts or creating separate lookalike profiles using someone’s photo and personal information.

Scammers know we’re not as likely to be skeptical if the pitch is coming from someone we know. I am ashamed to admit I was filling in a lot of information in my own mind that nearly had me falling for the scam.

However, I know that I rarely get something for nothing, and the $100,000 amount was, frankly, silly. I also know that I probably wouldn’t have applied for it even if it was $100.

Yet, there was enough there that I had myself second-guessing my gut. It also sent me running to Google to see if I could figure out whether this “grant” was legitimate.

The morale of the story is to always do your homework where money is involved.

Even when a “friend” is involved.

Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

Joan Oliver

Joan Oliver

A 30-year newspaper veteran who has been a copy editor, front-page editor, presentation editor, assistant news editor and publication editor, as well as a columnist and host of an online newspaper newscast.