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Scams are targeting Montana non-profits

Cassidy Cook
Posted at 6:20 PM, Feb 13, 2024

HELENA — Nonprofits survive on donations, and gaining a large sum of money could create significant organizational improvements.

But recently, scammers have targeted local nonprofits, attempting to steal tens of thousands of dollars.

"It was a cashier's check, very authentic looking, and it was $191,000. And immediately, I went to my executive director, and our brains went to all of these really cool things that we could do with this money," said Cassidy Cook, the director of development and communications at the Lewis and Clark Humane Society.

They were contacted last week by a donor who calls himself "Alphanso Blye."

They are one of 25 Montana nonprofits that the same scammer targeted, but the Montana Nonprofit Association says it can "easily estimate that it is at least double that."

First, the scammer sends a large check. Then, they say there has been a mix-up, and they request a portion of it back.

Keep in mind that the original check he sent is fraudulent.

Since it takes banks roughly 30 days to process the check, the nonprofit is fooled into returning the money.

Cook said, "He's assuming that in order to make a donor happy, an organization will immediately send him the money that he asks for, and then those funds essentially won't go through."

Montana Nonprofit Association has received calls on similar scams across the state.

"A nonprofit to think for even a couple days that they got a huge donation, and then to realize it's just somebody trying to trick them out of money, that's heartbreaking. That's really tough," said Kate Arpin from the Montana Nonprofit Association.

The Lewis and Clark Humane Society reacted similarly.

"These things that we've been discussing that feel like pipe dreams, we can probably do. And then, within 24 to 48 hours, to have that rug pulled out from under you was pretty hard," Cook said.

The Department of Justice says no nonprofits have fallen victim to the scammer, and prevention and awareness are key to not getting tricked.

The supervising attorney for The Office of Consumer Protection, Jake Griffith, said, "Making sure that the check is actually clearing the bank's process, that it's not fraudulent. Just because there is access to funds doesn't mean it's cleared."

The Montana Nonprofit Association sent out an alert to all banks in Montana so they know not to cash checks written in the scammers' alias.

You can report a nonprofit scam through the Montana Nonprofit Association here, but they also recommend reporting it to the Department of Justice.