CalTech CyberDefense Scam of the Month: A Legitimate Charity Prompts Scam Imitators

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Scammers are impersonating philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, the billionaire ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, the New York Times reports. Scott prefers to give money directly and contacts charities and other organizations unexpectedly, which has the unintended side effect of making it easier for scammers to pose as her.

“Over the course of 2020, Ms. Scott announced gifts totaling nearly $6 billion,” the Times explains. “Her unconventional model of giving was widely praised for its speed and directness. But some of the seeming advantages — no large, established foundation, headquarters, public website, or indeed any way to reach her or her representatives — are exactly what made her ripe for impersonation by scammers.”

The Times cites the example of Danielle Churchill, an Australian woman who was trying to raise money for therapy fees for her son. Churchill received an email that appeared to come from Mackenzie Scott offering $250,000.

“To receive the money, Ms. Churchill had to fill out a ‘membership form’ sent by an organization calling itself the MacKenzie Scott Foundation and set up an online account with Investors Bank and Trust Company,” the Times writes. “She could see that the foundation had transferred $250,000 into the account in her name, but because she was in Australia, she was told that she had to apply for a tax number and pay some associated fees before she could get access to the money and begin spending it on speech and occupational therapy for Lachlan.”

Churchill assumed it was a scam at first until she Googled it and found news articles detailing Scott’s unorthodox method of giving. She was convinced after contacting a phony Facebook page called “The Mackenzie Scott Foundation.” Churchill lost $7,900 as a result of the scam.

Stop, Look, and Think.

Don’t be fooled.