A local accredited charity was recently targeted by overseas scam artists

July 16, 2012

In a press release dated 12 July 2012, the Federal Trade Commission outlined testimony delivered to a House of Representatives subcommittee supporting renewal of an act that enhances FTC’s ability to combat internet fraud and scams originating in foreign countries.  The press release noted dramatic increases both in instances of cross-border fraud and dollars lost to related scams over a five year period.  Online fraud can affect consumers, businesses, or charitable organizations, and is more prevalent each year.  Your local BBB serving Central Virginia takes hundreds of calls a month relating to scams originating outside of the United States.

One of our local Accredited Charities was recently targeted by overseas scam artists attempting to solicit funds through a bogus website.  The bogus site mirrored the charity’s own website down to the minutest details.  Even someone familiar with the organization might not have noticed the difference if they were led to the scam site through a search engine.  The scam artists were attempting to add a “donate button” to their site to defraud people who would have no reason to think the gift wasn’t going to the local charity.  A credit card processing company called the charity to verify their information, after the scammers had tried to use their company to process bogus online donations.  If that processing firm hadn’t called, the fake site could have been up and running for months before being noticed.  Working with local law enforcement and with some suggestions from BBB, the bogus site was shut down within a week of its first coming to the charity’s attention.  Unfortunately, we hear from victims of scams on a daily basis.  Charities are not often thought of as being likely targets, but scam artists are increasingly creative and increasingly difficult to track down. 

Something like this could happen to any business or charity.  Websites are very easy to set up, they can be produced cheaply, and very hard to locate – especially when they originate overseas.  Routinely running your business or charity’s name and other key information through search engines would likely alert you to a fake website, or other misuse.  If you do find your organization in a similar situation, consider taking the following steps:

• Contact your local police or sheriff’s department immediately.  Depending on the circumstances, they may also involve the FBI, FTC, FCC, or other federal agencies.
• Notify your general counsel, and your business or charity’s principals, executives, and directors.
• Notify the Attorney General’s office and your regulatory or licensing authority.
• Notify all of the credit card companies with which your business or charity currently works about what has happened to put in a fraud alert.
• Notify the Internal Revenue Service about any suspected attempt to misuse an official IRS “EIN” code in order to commit fraud.
• Notify the Postal Inspector’s office, if the site lists an address other than your own and seems to involve mail fraud.
• Identify the site’s domestic web host or registrar, and have your counsel notify them in writing that your name, logo, other copyrighted information or intellectual property are being misused.
• Call that host or registrar directly to make them aware they are hosting a fraudulent site.
• Let us know at BBB.  We can add language to your Business Review or Charity Report to confirm your legitimate contact information, and to reassure your customers, clients, donors that you are aware of the fraud attempt and actively working to stop it.

With this specific kind of attempt at fraud and corporate identity theft, or any criminal activity, work closely with law enforcement and your legal counsel to ensure your business or charity’s exposure to further fraud is as limited as possible.  Reach out to us at BBB, once you’ve informed the authorities, your counsel, and other responsible parties with your organization.  Our local staff and our colleagues within the BBB system have vast collective experience with scams and fraud.  We may have suggestions applicable to the situation.  In this recent instance, our office was able to provide some help and guidance to one of our local Accredited Charities – just as we would for any consumer or business.  BBB is able to offer assistance like this through your support; if you do find your business or your charity in a similar situation, please let us attempt to be of service.