The "government grant scam" is one of the oldest tricks in the schemer's book. But that doesn't mean it isn't still very effective.

The scam, in which victims are promised "free" money from the government, has shown up recently in Ohio.

"Since early June, my office has received more than a dozen reports of Ohioans who were targeted by scammers posing as grant officers," Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray said. "Many of the calls appear to originate in the 202 area code. This creates an illusion of legitimacy because 202 is a Washington D.C. area code."

The reported scams are reaching consumers through phone calls, e-mails and letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service. All use the term "grant" and most require the recipient to pay a percentage upfront before acquiring the "free" money.

"Scammers are targeting Ohioans who are in a weakened position. It's an approach that preys upon the desperation and hope of struggling individuals, and it is reprehensible," Cordray said.

Cordray offers the following tips to avoid the "grant" scams:

• Be wary of mailings that appear to be from federal, state or other governmental agencies. Don't assume that a letter or postcard is actually from the government just because it uses words such as "federal," "stimulus package" or "grant." Even if the sender's name sounds official or legitimate, the originator might be phony.

• To determine if a letter, e-mail message or service is really from the government, contact the government agency in question from a number you know to be correct. For example, log onto the agency's actual Web site, such as www.irs.gov, and use a phone number or e-mail address suggested on the site.

• NEVER send money to a stranger through a wire transfer service. Don't trust requests for advance fees or upfront payment.

Because of the recent bank bailout activity by the Federal Reserve, many scammers claim that new laws also provide little-publicized funds for individuals. No such laws exist.

Some scam ads feature a picture of President Obama, or say that Obama is providing federal money to individuals for certain uses. That's not true. Much paperwork is required to receive any government grant.