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Nettie Ferry wasn't born yesterday.

So when a woman with a foreign accent named "Agnes" called her Saturday to tell her she was one of 1,700 lucky people selected to receive a $7,000 grant from the federal government for doing nothing more than not filing for bankruptcy in the last six months, having no felonies on her record, and paying her taxes on time, she was skeptical.

Tips

Telephone fraud is "on the rise," according to the Better Business Bureau. Here are some tips from the BBB to avoid getting scammed:
* 1. Know who you're dealing with: If a company or charity sounds unfamiliar, check it with the BBB.
* 2. Watch for warning signs -- if a telemarketer asks for a fee up front to obtain a loan, repair your credit or to claim a prize, it's illegal. Other danger signs include pressure to act immediately, scare tactics or intimidation, refusal to send written information and demands to send payment via wire or courier.
* 3. Be prepared when answering the phone: Use Caller ID or an answering machine to screen calls. Don't hesitate to hang up on suspicious calls.

"Even though I'm from Soddy-Daisy, I have enough brains to know that stuff like that just doesn't happen," Ferry said.

Ferry said Agnes asked her how she'd like to receive her big payday. Cash? Check? Direct Deposit? Ferry played along.

"I said, 'Oh, sure, cash would be nice,'" Ferry said.

At that point, Ferry said, Agnes gave her a phone number and a code and told her she should call Agnes' manager.

USA Today ran a story in December about a woman who received a similar call from a person with a foreign accent claiming to be with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and offering a grant of $7,000 in exchange for a $280 tax payment. Consumeraffairs.com also has several posts from people describing similar phone calls as recently as Feb. 28.

Other scams reported in the area in recent months include telephone calls from a supposed IRS agent asking for back-tax repayments on a Green Dot money card; calls supposedly from a relative broke or sick in another country, and sales pitches for medical alert devices for the elderly and disabled.

Ferry, 68, is retired and said she lives on a very fixed income. Knowing that others like her might be getting similar phone calls, she wants people to be on their guard.

"Seven thousand dollars to a person in my situation sounds like a million dollars, but luckily I have sense," Ferry said. "A lot of people would love to have $7,000."

Contact Will Healey at whealey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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