The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is warning small business operators and entrepreneurs to beware of unauthorised websites offering easy access to government grants.
Despite appearances some websites are not lending a helping hand to small businesses. In fact some sites will charge a fee to access government grants which can be normally accessed for free. In other cases the small business may pay the fee only to find they are not eligible for a particular grant.
The ACCC is also concerned that some overseas-based websites falsely give the impression that they are endorsed by the Australian Government.
The Australian Business Funding Centre (ABFC) www.australiangovernmentgrants.org is an example of a website which looks like it has some kind of Australian Government affiliation or official status.
Official sounding names and web addresses are often used to draw unsuspecting people to questionable websites.
The ABFC and other websites present educational material about government grant programs and, in some cases, videos or news releases showcasing successful grant recipients in a manner which suggests that the website is a service provided or endorsed by the Australian Government.
A closer inspection of such websites may reveal disclaimers acknowledging no affiliation with the government. In the ABFC case it also has disclaimers which reveal that the ABFC had no part in the success of most, if not all of the grant recipient stories it has published on the website.
The ACCC is concerned that such disclaimers can be easily overlooked especially by people who are more comfortable calling the phone numbers or using the other contact points which are displayed on more prominent parts of the webpage.
Anyone looking for small business grants should note that the Australian Government provides grant money to eligible operators and nobody should be discouraged from taking advantage of these programs.
To protect your business, make sure you keep these points in mind:
- The government doesn't cold call you to tell you about grants
- The government doesn't accept payment via wire transfer
- All Australian Government websites use the '.gov.au' extension
- All decisions about grants are based on merit – you can't pay for special access
- Where you may wish to use the services of a third party to assist in preparing grant applications, choose a reputable service by doing your homework first; and
- If you have signed up to a questionable service and have paid by credit card discuss your recovery options with your provider.
Separately, the ACCC has recently reported an increase in scams impersonating government departments or major businesses.
For more information about protecting your small business or to report a scam, visit www.scamwatch.gov.au or call 1300 795 995.