Scams are everywhere these days, including those targeting smaller nonprofits. Why? Maybe the criminals assume organizations are staffed by volunteers or employees who are naïve and good-hearted, and will do anything if pressed enough. Don’t become a victim of these scams!  ***Don’t be in a hurry to pay any bill, especially if there is an odd urgency to it. Get an approval first – ALWAYS. 

Below are a few of scams to be aware of:

1- Computer cartridges and supplies – I actually witnessed this one personally and told the swindler to take a hike. The scam works by first the scammer sending in boxes of cartridges or supplies, usually old and defective. Then the organization receives a bill from a business requiring payment for the items. If you don’t pay, the person calls you pressuring you into paying, “or else.” 

In reality, nobody asked for the items and the scammer uses a name of someone he knows works there.  In my case, the ruse was obvious because the guy used a name of a person who was no longer with the organization. He tried another name, and I immediately called that person up and she confirmed never to have requested anything. The best thing to do in this case is to tell the scammer to come and get his stuff, and simply ignore the frantic efforts to collect.

2- Credit card refund – Someone makes a payment or a large donation using a stolen card.  Then he or she calls saying that the amount was wrong and the organization needs to give the scammer an urgent refund check. If the nonprofit falls for this, it is out not only of the first “payment,” but also of the refund. 

A variation of this scam, the “check writing scam,” involves a foreign check for a large amount. The same urgent request for a refund is made. The idea is that the foreign check will take longer to process through the bank, and by the time the nonprofit is advised that the check is fraudulent, it’s too late. In this case, the organization may be on the hook for bank fees for depositing a bad check besides losing the “refund” money. This is what happened to 18 organizations in the Richmond, Va area, as reported by The Nonprofit Times online in February 2016.

3- Web address about to expire – The organization receives a letter saying that the domain and the address are about to expire and that renewal fees are required right away. The problem is that the domain and web address are not about to expire, and the company sending the letter is not the one the nonprofit deals with  The dead giveaway is the price to renew this domain and address is too high, but many will pay now and ask questions to the IT person later. Bad idea.

This scam also has a variation related to registrations or trademarks expiring. The fraudsters keep sending in the letters marked urgent or some other ominous sign. Oftentimes the letterhead and other details seem to be authentic, implying that the scammer is somehow related to the government. Don’t fall for it. Talk to the person in charge of the website or trademarks before paying up.

4-Directory listing scam – This fraud is the first one listed on the Federal Trade Commission website, underscoring how “popular” this scam is. The game starts with a phone call to verify details of the business. Since this is only a verification call, often the person answers the questions without much concern. The call is often taped, which is the first sign that something is wrong. (Why does one need to tape a call that is only for verification purposes?) Next, the nonprofit receives an urgent bill for directory listing. If you balk, the fraudsters threaten legal action and say they have proof of the listing and the name of the employee who authorized it.

The person’s name came from the first call, of course. If the organization still doesn’t pay up, then they give you phony discounts to smooth things out. These scammers are very persistent and some people may pay up just to stop the calls, which is not a good strategy.

In the event that your organization is victim of fraud or someone is trying to scam you, report it to the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission. If people are threatening you or if you paid someone because of a scam, contact also your police department. When unsure about a company, check it out online, specifically on the Better Business Bureau website ( and again, NEVER pay a bill just because you received it and it may be late --- train your staff to be vigilant and skeptical on the phone and on sending out “urgent” payments.

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02/21/2016 10:47am

We've been victims of the cartridge scam. Received several shipments of old stuff & bill. Watch out for this one!

03/03/2016 3:56pm

Sorry to hear that. It keeps happening way too many times.

03/11/2016 10:09pm

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07/07/2016 4:37am

Can I really report it to the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission?

07/08/2016 11:55pm

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07/12/2016 10:56pm

Unfortunately, fraud is too common in the nonprofit sector.

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