Jackpot! You received notice that you have already qualified for a grant, one that you didn’t even apply for. A company that you’re not familiar with is selflessly notifying people that the government wants to give them grants they didn’t even ask for. The reasons given that you qualify for this grant may vary from “because you’re a taxpayer” to “as a citizen, you’re entitled to….”

What should you do next? If you were somebody who’s not quite familiar with how government grants work, you’d probably excitedly send the company some money to secure the grant on your behalf, seeing it as spending a little now to get the much bigger amount of money that’s been promised later.

Well, you’re actually more savvy than that, since you’re right now in the process of educating yourself on the reality of government grants. Typically, the process is that you locate a government grant that fits your situation (if you’re my student, I help you locate it). Then you carefully check the guidelines and eligibility rules. You’ll then apply for the grant. Depending upon the grant, it can range from something as simple as contacting a government office, to as complex as preparing a full proposal. The common factor here, though, is that it’s your responsibility in the vast majority of cases, to take the initiative to show that you validly qualify for the grant funding.

That said, there may be very rare occasions where you’d be notified or reminded about something like a homestead exemption rebate. Keep in mind, though, that would come from the government office itself, and not be a third-party company sending out bulk postcards or cold-calling people.

Government grants exist to solve problems. To solve the problems, government officials try to carefully match available funding with the recipients best suited to perform the actions to help solve the problem. For instance, if there’s a problem of high unemployment in a community, a business owner is in the position to help solve the problem by hiring more working. Government grants can help this happen through hiring incentives, training grants, or other similar programs. The funding is usually in high demand and awarded on a competitive basis. So does it make sense then, that any government officials would make it their mission to try to track people down to please accept some money that they didn’t even know they qualified for?

So then, what happens if you do follow through on one of these offers that you’ve already “won” a government grant, and it’s just waiting for you to collect it? It depends on the end game that company making the offer has in mind. Probably the best-case scenario is that you’d pay a small fee, then either get worthless information, or never hear from the company again. It could be a little worse than that, though. One possibility is that the small fee you’re asked to pay upfront opens the door to you getting strung along to pay more and more, each time being promised that a grant is just around the corner. Other possibilities are that, once you provide payment information, you end up with unauthorized charges or a ransacked checking account. An even worse case would be that you would provide all kinds of personal information, possibly opening yourself up to identity theft.

So, here’s what to keep in mind. Government grants are real, and you have a very good opportunity to qualify for some. But there’s a procedure that you must follow to get it, so if you receive notification that you’ve qualified before you’ve even applied, be wary of whether the offer is legitimate.