SEATAC, Wash. -- Thieves are targeting nonprofit organizations in a sophisticated scam to steal their donations. Two charity groups have fallen victim in Washington state so far.
“When I pulled that check out and I saw $39,850, of course I was ecstatic,” said King County sheriff's deputy Andy Connor, who founded the Genesis Project, which provides hope to victims of sex trafficking.
The organization relies on donations to survive. His charity did not fall victim to the scam because he realized after a couple of days that the check was bogus. But he understands why some groups do.
“I was devastated emotionally because I knew that this check that was going to help us and help our girls is gone."
Here’s how the scheme works. The scammers send the charity an email that appears to be from a legitimate business in London called Syte Architects. The thieves even set up a fake website called www.syte-architects.com that looks like the real one. You can tell the difference because the fake site has a hyphen in the URL. The crooks offer to make a large donation to the charity in memory of a loved one.
"The author's mum or the author's sister and how she has recently passed away and how he would like to memorialize this family member by donating to that particular nonprofit's cause,” said SeaTac Det. Robin Fry.
The nonprofit deposits the check but before it can clear, the scammers contact the charity with a desperate plea. The author of the email claims his accountant sent too much money, funds that were supposed to help a sick little girl. The author writes, "I had pledged to get funds to this family for her dialysis machine which is going to save them a lot of hospital trips and medical bills and she is due for surgery this week."
The thief asks the charity to wire a portion of the money back. The check sent to the charity never clears and the organization is out thousands in stolen money.
“If they're asking for money back from that check, that is the number one flag and from there on, stop everything,” said Connor.
Fry is working hard to stop the scammers but says she needs help to keep the investigation alive.
“I am looking for other nonprofit agencies, whether you've been targeted in these emails, or whether you believed and if you believed, there's no shame in that and silence is not golden in this case,” said Fry.
She is asking anyone who has received a cashier’s check or been contacted by the crooks to email her at Robin.Fry@kingcounty.gov or call her at (206) 973-4906.