Bogus Donation Scam Targeting Local Nonprofits

January 29, 2016


Updated: February 1, 2016

Better Business Bureau serving Central Virginia is issuing an alert about a scam artist alleging to be a philanthropist in London, England. Eighteen Richmond-area charitable organizations have reported to BBB being emailed by “Ken McFarlane” or “Kenneth McFarlane”, with offers of 5-figure donations.

Three local charities received and deposited $39,850 checks. They were each contacted by “McFarlane” immediately claiming that a mistake had been made and asking them to return $10,000 as soon as possible. The checks turned out to be worthless.

Had these charities followed through with the request, they would have lost a significant amount of money. Charities have reported complications from the scam, including bank fees associated with depositing the fraudulent check. BBB urges any charity that receives these emails not to respond or engage in any way.

“This is really an old twist on an old scam. We’ve seen this same kind of scam for years, just not lately. It’s sickening that charities which serve youth, veterans, and those needing health care in our community are being targeted,” said Tom Gallagher, president & CEO of BBB serving Central Virginia.

The name & contact info in emails received by local charities mirrors an architectural firm in the UK. The scam artists have copied the UK firm’s website in an attempt to legitimize themselves.

BBB urges charities to use extreme caution if they are contacted in any way by “Ken McFarlane” or other unknown parties. If you receive this check, do not deposit it. Even more, it’s extremely unlikely that a huge donation will appear out of thin air.

ABOUT BBB: BBB serving Central Virginia serves Richmond, the Tri-Cities, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg, as well as 42 surrounding counties from Fauquier to Mecklenburg and Northumberland to Amherst. The nonprofit organization was established in 1954 to advance responsible, honest, and ethical business practices and to promote customer confidence through self-regulation of business. Core services of BBB include business reliability reports, dispute resolution, truth-in advertising, consumer and business education, and charity review.