“This company used enticing ads and claims of immediate grants to lure in customers,” said Cooper. “But once consumers paid their money, the grant offers disappeared and the promises proved hollow.”
Cooper filed suit last week against Grant Quest, Inc. of Raleigh and its owner Aron Andrew Willis charging that they deceived North Carolina consumers into paying an upfront fee and then failed to help them secure cash grants as promised. Wake County Superior Court Judge Wade Barber today granted Cooper’s request to temporarily stop Grant Quest and Willis from doing business pending a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for August 15. Cooper is also asking the court to shut down Grant Quest permanently and to make the company pay refunds to consumers and civil penalties.
As alleged in the suit, Grant Quest began placing advertisements in North Carolina newspapers in March of 2004 that claimed, “Cash grants available immediately!” The ads stated that as much as 30 million dollars in grants from private foundations and the government was available and that Grant Quest would show customers “exactly how and where” to win these grants.
According to the ads, grants could be used for a variety of needs such as paying credit card bills and college tuition, starting a new business, and covering medical or housing costs. Grant Quest claimed that these grants were available without a credit check, co-signers or collateral and did not have to be paid back.
According to Cooper’s complaint, more than 60 people responded to the ads. These consumers each paid Grant Quest $139 for help receiving grants. However, the suit alleges that Grant Quest and Willis failed to win grants for any of their customers. Some people received nothing in exchange for their payment, while others got some sketchy information downloaded from the Internet about how to apply for grants and loans. Despite offers of a full refund in the company’s ads, Grant Quest refused to pay refunds when asked.
Based on complaints from consumers, Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division repeatedly asked Willis to refund money to his dissatisfied customers. On July 6, Willis informed Cooper’s office that he had not paid any refunds and that he was continuing to take money from new customers.
Willis is currently on probation on unrelated charges. He pled guilty in Wake County Superior Court on December, 17, 2004 to charges of obtaining money by false pretenses for taking money on behalf of “The Children's Foundation” and then cashing the check for himself.
“Con artists are always coming up with new ways to try to trick you out of your hard-earned money,” said Cooper. “If you see an ad that promises easy money, remember that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. Before you pay money to someone who claims they can help you get a grant or a loan, check out the company with my office.”
Consumers can contact the Attorney Generals’ Consumer Protection office toll-free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.