Lisa Brown found a brochure in her mailbox last month that she thought would change her life.
The 50-year-old Cleveland resident struggles to meet monthly expenses. The brochure from the “Ohio Advantage Program” said it “would help disadvantaged Ohioans” by assisting them with payments for rent, utilities, credit cards and more. The brochure also said it offered citizens an opportunity to receive free computer training and job placement services.
So, Brown called the local number, gave the person on the line the reference code on the brochure and began answering questions to see if she was eligible for the program.
“Based on my conversation, the man said he would send me $2,000 for utilities, $600 for clothes and $1,200 for a new washer and dryer.”
The only thing Brown had to do was give the man on the phone her Social Security number and the number of a bank account where she could have the funds directly deposited – information she quickly gave out.
But when Brown had an uneasy feeling about the matter and made a follow-up call the next day, her call went to voicemail and was unreturned.
That’s when Brown got suspicious and called the Better Business Bureau.
Sure enough, according to Sue McConnell with the Cleveland BBB, the Ohio Advantage Program is not registered with the state of Ohio and does not exist. In fact, this phony assistance program appears to be the mastermind of someone who is no stranger to Northeast Ohio scams.
The BBB discovered that Darnell Nash had registered a website, www.myadvantageprogram.org, in April 2009 that promotes several programs, including the bogus OAP.
Nash, as it turns out, gained national notoriety in 2008 by casting fraudulent ballots in Cuyahoga County during the 2008 presidential election though an organization known as ACORN.
According to McConnell, Nash has since had a sex-change operation and goes by the name of Santina Gibbs. Gibbs held an OAP meeting in October 2008 that was shut down by Akron police. At that time, she was meeting potential OAP victims in person.
Now, it appears Gibbs is doing the same thing via direct mail, telephone and a website.
The BBB advises citizens to not divulge Social Security numbers, account numbers and other personal information to OAP or any unfamiliar organization.
As for Brown, she contacted all of her credit card companies and banks, advising them of her situation since she did give out her Social Security number.
“I just hope it’s not too late.”