Here’s the catch: Treashonna “Shonna” Graham, self proclaimed “Grant Bae”, used fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to start her grant writing and consulting business. Through the Grant Bae brand, Graham targeted struggling minority-owned small businesses, promising them thousands of dollars of “guaranteed” grant money. Grant Bae markets grant writing and consulting services, charging up-front fees of more than $5,000 at times, to distressed small minority-owned businesses. Relying heavily on social media, including Facebook, Instagram, and Clubhouse platforms, Graham guaranteed minority operated businesses at least $25,000 in grant funds. Struggling business owners trusted Graham’s expertise and guaranteed promise of funds, only to be swindled.
Grant Bae purports to be an expert in securing grant funding for minority-owned businesses. Graham herself claims to have eight years of experience writing grant proposals. In reality, she has very little experience securing grant funds. In fact, during the time she claimed to be securing grants, she was committing felony theft at her former place of employment, Krystal fast food restaurant. She pled guilty to two felony counts of theft for stealing cash deposits from the business.
While serving a three year probation sentence for theft, she illicitly obtained over $30,000 in PPP loans that she used to start C Lee Enterprises, dba, Grant Bae. Setting her sights on minority-owned businesses, she coerced nearly 100 businesses to pay her thousands of dollars to secure much needed funds for their business. They were guaranteed at least $25,000 in grant funds. In some cases, she guaranteed clients that they would receive at least four grants over the course of one year.
Graham told clients on her social media pages that she secured over $100 million in funding during 2021 and bragged about having 8,200 clients. She even claimed to have special access to $268 million in grant funds and that Grant Bae had secured funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the Federal Communications Commission, and global investment firm KKR. In addition, Grant Bae advertised she could apply for the COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program on behalf of minority-owned businesses impacted by the pandemic.
Clients paid hefty up-front fees and turned over sensitive information, such as their articles of incorporation; business bank account information; and the business's Employee Identification Number; to the crook company, all in hopes that they would receive the guaranteed funds.
Instead of delivering the funds, she strung the owners along, stating funds were pending and money would be deposited, when in fact they had not secured any grants. Clients seeking information on the source of the grants were denied access to the information. When deposit dates came and went, Graham continued to gaslight the clients. She went live on Instagram promising to get funds to clients within a week, but the money never materialized. Typically, by the time they realized no money was coming, it was too late for the clients to dispute the transaction with their banks and Grant Bae was ignoring refund requests. Some clients were blocked from contacting Graham. Few, if any, received the promised grant money. Many businesses lost substantial amounts of money.
In June 2022, the Federal Trade Commission and the State of Florida filed charges of fraud against Grant Bae and Graham. In their Complaint, the FTC alleges the business committed multiple violations of the law, including the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, the FTC Act, and the Florida Deceptive Unfair Trade Practices Act, by targeting minority-owned small businesses with fraudulent claims that they could secure grant funding through their services. On June 21, 2022, a temporary restraining order was issued and the case is pending in federal court.
Businesses often rely on loans, grants, and other finance options to fund their operations. Unfortunately, far too often small businesses are the target of deceptive scammers, like Grant Bae. These con artists use misleading and deceptive claims, and in many instances outright lies to lure them in. Don’t fall for the schemes. Avoid anyone that guarantees you will receive grant funds, that asks you to pay an up-front fee, and that claims to be affiliated with the government without providing verifiable proof.
If you have been scammed, contact your bank or financial institution right away to discuss the fraudulent transaction. They will be able to review your options. If you have provided any personal, private information to the scammers, such as your social security or business EIN information; bank account information, etc.; monitor your credit report for fraudulent transactions. Next, report the fraud to the FTC, the FBI’s Internet Crime Center (if you were scammed online, through social media, or email), and your state’s attorney general. You can also file a complaint with Business Consumer Alliance.
Federal grants are available to eligible business owners. To obtain these grants, applicants can visit grants.gov to submit an application. Remember, it is illegal for anyone to ask you to pay to apply for or increase your chances of being awarded a federal grant. The SBA offers a variety of financing options to small business owners. To apply or get more information regarding SBA-related programs, visit sba.gov, call (800) 827-5722, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are looking for financing options, here are some tips:
- Comparison shop to get a realistic idea of how much funding will cost and whether you can afford repayment.
- Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics or feel the need to act right away on an offer. If you feel rushed or coerced to go through with the transaction, that is a sign to put the brakes on and walk away.
- Carefully go over the details of the offer, your obligations, and the overall cost before signing any agreement and paying.
- Take your time to go over the contract thoroughly and clarify any items you don’t understand.
- If you are seeking a loan, find out from the beginning what the consequences are if you cannot make payments on time.
- Never rely solely on what the sales person tells you. Get any guarantees and promises in writing.
Protecting your small business is a top priority. Always do your research before agreeing to any offer. If you don’t, trusting the wrong person can cost you dearly.