I Do Not Like It Scam-I-Am

I Do Not Like It Scam-I-Am

IMG_4092Last week, the Community Foundation received a remarkable check from a new donor—almost $40,000.  And, it was unrestrictedYowza.  The donor trusted our judgment on how to apply it most wisely.

It started with a generic email asking whom to talk to about making a donation.  The donor was from London, England, so my radar went up.  I mean, who makes a gift from overseas without any local ties to a community? Of course, I did the net search, revealing their company Website and Linked-In page, none of which offered any clues.  But, seeing those sites did sort of make it real.

After several emails back and forth—all very brief, mind you—we received a Cashier’s check from a Trust fund held at a well-known regional bank.  Same as cash, right? Those Cashier’s checks?  My radar shifted from, “This is too good to be true,” to “WAA-HOO!” And, what’s more, it was for about $10,000 more than the email pledged.   Our Board of Directors was poised for discussion on best use of the funds. We had visions of future software purchases, creation of at least one new endowment fund, and stashing some away in a Reserve Fund.

And then, the shoe dropped.  As requested, I emailed the donor to say the gift had arrived.  He called.

The gift was $10,000 more “by mistake.”  Actually, the donor said, his accountant, who was now in Greece (Sigh*) had made this error and he expected he would need to fire him (Jeez*).  What’s more, he had pledged that portion of the distribution to a family with a child headed into surgery—and they needed the funds immediately.

In my head, I could hear one of my favorite borrowed expletives:  OY.

 Of course I couldn’t issue a refund to a family.  I could, I explained, issue the refund back to the Trust if he could give me the name of the Trust Officer, Bank, and details.  That would be too slow, he said.

He did try to cajole. And persuade. I think he may have offered up a few threats, including canceling the gift.  “I’m sorry,” I repeated.  “I totally understand,”  I said, but didn’t say more.  Finally, he gave up, and said he needed to make a round of phone calls to come up with other solutions.

I called our local bank to explain that I was fairly certain we had deposited a large and fraudulent Cashier’s check.  Here was an “A-HA” moment:  Did you know that it can take seven to ten business days to fully clear even a Cashier’s check?

I then spent about an hour on the phone with the bank that supposedly issued the Cashier’s check; it took them some time to determine with conviction that it was a fraud. I’m pretty sure the website of the “company” and LinkedIn page were frauds too, to support the scam.

We filed a local police report, as suggested by the banks.  The nice Officer shook his head and raddled off a list of similar scams they see regularly—most often preying on the elderly, and all too often gaining thousands of dollars in the process.

It’s sad for a million reasons.

I do not like it Sam I Am.  I do not like it.

23 Comments

  1. Addendum: I’ve sense heard from a colleague in Williamsburg who was having lunch with a nonprofit client. Client enthused that they were getting a large check from a new overseas donor! My colleague recognized the name of the “donor:” Ken McFarlane with McFarlane Latter Architects. Our guess is that Virginia nonprofits are being targeted.

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    • Amy Owen. You are on top of it! Sorry the $$ did not make it into your account!! Thanks for the heads up!

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      • We sure could have put those funds to the highest purpose! Thanks for the sympathy!

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  2. I received the same email the morning of New Year’s Eve. After checking the same website, etc, I thought it could be real so I sent him some basic info. Then…I got another email just like the first and knew it was a scam. I wrote back telling him he should be ashamed of himself.

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    • Nice job!

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  3. Note: I work for a non-profit humane society in VA on the Middle Peninsula and we were emailed by Ken McFarlane with McFarlane Latter Architects with the same request – “to whom may I speak about making a donation.” After internet search and trying to call the number on the company website to no avail, we ignored the request thinking it was a bit fishy. Just adding our anecdote to reinforce the evidence of a scam! Thanks for this note; we have never been so happy for our cynicism here!

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    • Yes, I guess cynicism and skepticism have their place! Thanks. Amy

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  4. Note: I work for a non-profit humane society on the Middle Peninsula. I wanted to add our own story of contact with Ken McFarlane with the McFarlane Latter Architects. We received an email from Mr. McFarlane with the same request “to whom may I speak about making a donation.” After some internet research and a few failed phone calls to the number listed on the Latter Architects site, we ignored the request feeling it was a bit fishy. I wanted to chime in to lend support to the evidence that Mr. McFarlane and his architecture company is indeed a farce! Thank you for this article confirming our suspicions; we have never been more happy for our cynicism here!

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    • It saved you time and bit of heartache, to be sure!

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  5. I, too, received an “offer” to my favorite non-profit. I declined the offer, but sounds like the same kind of deal. A second e-mail offered more for more info. I did not answer, but notified my favorite non-profit that there was something awry. No more notices. The one received yesterday I simply deleted. Guess that I will send on as a notice if I get another.
    Ann Burruss
    Literacy Volunteers of Gloucester, Inc

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    • He is persistent! Thanks for reaching out. Amy

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  6. Our situation with Ken McFarlane and this scam is almost identical to the previous situation.

    How unfortunate for all of us in the non=profit world.

    Clearly these people have too much time on their hands and are hoping that at least one of us would take the check to the bank before doing some research. If it sounds too good to be true….well, you know the rest.

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    • Agreed!

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  7. I work on the development staff for a nonprofit in Richmond. I had the exact same email conversation with a donor named Ken McFarlane with McFarlane Architects. He tells us a check of $30,000 is the mail, that his accountant has just caught a flight to Greece, etc. Thank you for this post!

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    • Wow. This guy is really making the rounds. I hope all of our nonprofits are steering clear!

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  8. I had the same experience here in Richmond. Luckily he raised enough red flags for us to have the bank examine the check first. But boy you sure did want to believe in him, especially on the last day of the calendar year. What first raised my hackles was his avoidance of any question that related to 1) Why us? or 2) Where can we send a thank you?

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    • Yes, he also avoided similar responses, it further ingrained my suspicions and yet, said that hopeful part of me, maybe he is just a reclusive! Sigh* Thanks for reaching out.

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  9. We were approached as well (RAMPS in Richmond). He sent the check and we were immediately suspicious as it was over the amount, the overseas connection was a stretch for a donor to choose our small nonprofit, and the cadence of the email language seemed…off. We took the check to the bank and told them we believed it to be fraudulent. The bank manager called Key Bank, which confirmed the check is nothing like what they us. We emailed McFarlane Latter to confirm they know of the fraudulent use of Mr. McFarlane’s name. The firm informed us that both the FBI and the Metropolitan Police in London are investigating the matter. The local bank manager said she would inform other local bank managers to be on the lookout for more checks.

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    • Wow. This scofflaw is incorrigible. Another call today from a nearby nonprofit in my neck of the woods who received an email from “Ken McFarlane.”

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  10. This scam made its way to Atlanta. I received the same email earlier this week. I informed the Community Foundation of Atlanta and let them know to be aware.

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    • I just heard from some folks who reported that one of our brethren charities took the bait and issued the “refund.”

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  11. I just received a similar message but it was from a friend. He said with an investment of $1,850, I would receive a check for $150,000 and it didn’t have to be returned! Immediately I knew this kind of message would never come from my friend. An additional message asked me to text them on 978 913 4053. This area code is from NJ and my friend lives out west! A scam at it’s lowest level. I hope they catch the scammers!

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    • I’ve recently heard from the FBI that our scammer is being prosecuted. This sounds like a new law breaker!

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