Charity scam artists now target the organizations themselves: Internet Scambusters #722
In a cruel new twist to the crime, charity scam artists have decided to hit where it hurts most -- by stealing directly from the charitable organizations themselves.
In this week's issue, we explain how crooks are using the advance payment or overpayment ruse to trick nonprofits into sending them money.
We also have a timely warning about flood-damaged cars in the aftermath of the August 2016 Louisiana deluge.
Let's get started...
100 Non-Profits Hit in Cruel New Twist to Charity Scams
Bogus benefactors have added a new meaning to the concept of charity scams.
Previously, we've seen and reported on instances where scammers pose as fund collectors and simply pocket the money for themselves.
In other instances, what seem to be legitimate charities are exposed as keeping most of the money they raise for themselves while donating only small amounts to the actual causes they claim to support.
Now, charities themselves are being ripped off by people pretending to be major donors who subsequently either renege on their offer or use it as a lever to steal money from them.
Why do they do this?
Sometimes, it's nothing more than vanity: people posing as philanthropists, pledging money that will enhance their reputation.
Maybe they even had good intentions at the time they made the offer but later changed their minds and failed to donate the money.
In other cases, the motives are more dubious.
For example, people have been known to offer charitable donations as part of a deal from which they ultimately profit.
In other cases, a cash gift comes with so many strings attached, the charity is unable to comply and loses out.
Or even worse, the donation is entirely fake and is used as a lever to steal money from the charitable organization. That's the meanest of them all.
This year, crooks have been using the well-known advance payment or overpayment scam to hoodwink charities into sending them money.
In one recent case, in Washington state, a charity received a check for almost $40,000 that seemed to be from a legitimate company.
Then they got an email from this "company" saying part of the money was supposed to have gone to another worthwhile cause, and asking for the sum to be wired back immediately because of the urgency of the other supposed charity's need.
This, of course, was a ruse to get the victim organization to wire the money from its own accounts before the original check was declared a dud.
Fortunately, this particular charity was founded and run by a serving police officer who recognized it as a scam in time to stop the money being wired back to the scammer.
It still caused a huge amount of stress though because the charity had initially believed they were getting desperately needed funds.
A similar version of the scam has since been reported in Virginia where three charitable organizations received the same offer -- the actual sum was $39,850, which gives it an aura of realism.
In all cases, the offer seemed to come from a genuine London firm, Syte Architects, with the "donor" using the last name of McFarlane.
In all cases, too, he requested a return of $10,000 by money wire.
To try to throw victims off the scent of a scam, the crooks even set up a phony website that mimicked the legitimate firm's Internet pages and confirmed the name of McFarlane.
This meant that if a recipient was suspicious and went online to check out the "donor" using the web address given in the donation letter, everything would seem to be in order.
Sadly, a spokesman for the real Syte Architects later told a Washington state TV station that he'd been contacted by over 100 non-profits who had been offered a fake donation by the crooks.
"It's quite sad," he told the station. "You get some people calling us to thank us for the donation. We have to quickly tell them that they are a victim of a scam."
You may wonder how scammers could be so cruel as to try to trick hard-pressed charities out of their precious funds, but it merely gives a powerful insight into the callousness of the criminal mind. They don't care who they hurt.
If you work for a charity or another non-profit, be on the alert for these tricksters -- not just the phony McFarlane but also anyone you've never heard of suddenly offering you money.
A big, unsolicited donation is the first red flag that this could be a scam, though it's not a certainty.
A much clearer signal is if you're asked to wire back part of the payment. Never do this because it's as near 100% certain a charity scam as you can be.
Alert of the Week
Watch out for scammers mopping up money in the aftermath of the floods in Louisiana a few weeks ago.
Bogus charity collectors and rogue contractors are already out and about doing their worst.
Longer term, expect to see flood-damaged cars being offered for sale. Learn more about how to avoid this scam in this earlier Scambusters issue: Scammers Dump Flooded Cars on Unsuspecting Buyers.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!