A whistleblower tells FOX 32 he's sorry after working for a company that charged hundreds of dollars for services his customers could have gotten for free.
Michael Bright says he's still nervous to talk about his old job.
“Basically we're a third party company taking people's money that really didn't need to have that service,” he said.
That service was registering organizations for federal grants on a site called "System for Award Management" or "SAM."
"SAM” would help connect businesses with opportunities to get grants for things like research and conservation.
Bright worked for a third-party company called "Financial Award Services" and would reach out to folks looking for that grant money.
“We would call people and email people and say hey - you didn't finish your SAM registration renewal,” Bright said.
But after a few weeks on the job, Bright says he started to realize he wanted out.
Bright says one call he made to a local landscaping company was the last straw. He broke down when she started asking questions and wanted her $499 back.
“I just told the lady, like, look, ma'am. I gotta tell you the truth. I'm like, this is a scam. You don't need this service. Call your credit card company. Deny the charges. That was it,” Bright said.
FOX 32 called the landscaping company that spoke with Bright. They confirmed his story, but didn't want to appear on camera.
“This is just a human being that's being taken advantage of. I'm like, I can't do this no more,” Bright said.
Bright says he quit that day and is now apologizing.
FOX 32 reached out to Financial Award Services, which also operates as application and renewal services. FAS says it refunded the landscaping company.
Despite the bald eagle and American flag on its website, FAS says it "openly and unmistakably" states it is not affiliated with the government.
While the business is perfectly legal, FAS acknowledges that SAM registration and government help are free, but says customers choose FAS to handle SAM renewals in order to maintain compliance and ensure accuracy.
The government says it has free user guides and videos for that. But FAS says Bright was terminated due to poor performance.
“In today's fast-paced society I can't stress enough the importance of researching everything you get,” said Steve Bernas.
Bernas with the Better Business Bureau says in his 30 years, he's seen these grant emails before and warns companies to be careful.
“It looks like it's coming from a governmental agency when in actuality, it's not. Sometimes they charge fees, when you can get it done yourself free of charge,” Bernas said.
“I needed a job, you know, but now, I'm doing the right thing, so in the end I'll feel okay,” Bright said.
The government also tells FOX 32 it wants to hear from anyone who receives an unsolicited call or email about SAM registration.
Financial Award Services issued the following statement:
"We openly and unmistakably state that we are not affiliated with the Federal Government, SAM.gov, or any other Government affiliated platforms,databases, programs etc.in all of our marketing material and on all of our phone conversations (see attached images). We disclose this information from the initial marketing emails, to client acquisition in our terms of services agreement (it is mandatory to click a box stating that the have read and agree to our terms of service before a clients order can be processed) and it is included in the processing portion that is completed over the phone. The SAM database is entirely free, we never deny this fact. It is also free to get help with your SAM registration from the Federal Service Desk (a similar help desk is provided to US tax payers as well when trying to do their taxes for free on their own).
There are many other companies within the document preparation industry that offer free services in order to be expedited, manage, or offer a convenience to clients so they don't have to perform document preparation themselves, for example: tax preparation companies (….) Would it be wise or done in the best manner if a customer performs these services on their own, usually not. Which is why most document preparation services exist and is completely legal as long as they provide services (which we do).
Customers choose us to handle their SAM registration renewal for a selected time period , in order to expedite the process, ensure accuracy, and maintain compliance. Much like any other paper filing business, we use public information to provide a service for our clients that can take them 60-90 minutes to complete or up to 2-4 hours to complete on their own depending on the company and their situation. We are able to expedite the process and save them time, as many of our clients are upper level Executives, and extremely busy. In accordance to providing that service,much like any other for profit document preparation business we charge a fee for such.
Regarding Michael Bright he is currently under a non disclosure agreement and is not legally allowed to discuss anything regarding Financial Award Services or Application & Renewal Services and was terminated from our company weeks ago due to very poor performance."
In regards to your source a refund has been processed a while ago."