The following is a compilation of online discussions of faux donors trying to scam colleges, schools, and nonprofits. In most cases it’s not clear what the scammers are trying to achieve. Maybe they’re just practical jokes.
These tales were provided by Barbara Esteve at Cedar Crest College, Roylene Gallas at the Little City Foundation, Don Martin at St. Paul’s School, Lori Redfearn at the California State University Chancellor’s Office, Stephen M. Rodriguez at Boston University, and Kristi Worden at Augustana College. I’ve anonymized the tellers of the tales and the subjects.
Our front desk received a call from someone who wanted to give a major gift to our college. She transferred this caller to a major gift officer. She couldn’t find a trace of him through Google so tried calling the numbers given later in the day and none were in service. It’s been passed onto our security department but wanted to give everyone a heads up. Not sure the purpose of the scam since they didn’t get any information out of us really; maybe just to get our hopes up :).
Here’s what my major gifts officer wrote up:
The caller’s granddaughters decided to give funds to [the college]. They researched online. They have no ties to [the college].
He apparently went to undergrad at [another college] – they had no records of him when I called. He claimed that he had given gave scholarships to [that college].
He has an MBA from [major university] and a law degree from [another major university].
He has a yacht company with 4 shipyards in 3 countries.
He has homes in Mississippi and Florida.
I got one last week saying I was, “DAMNED FROM ETERNAL SALVATION FOR NOT ACCEPTING A GIFT THAT WAS A MIRACLE FROM GOD.” The donor promised his patent would completely fund the university, wipe out the national debt, and make America the happiest place on Earth.
I obviously could not accept because that would leave me with nothing left to do. BTW beware potential donors who only correspond using cap lock.
A decade or so ago, when I worked at a certain cathedral in [another state], I was sent an envelope full of grocery coupons and pornography from a man whose accompanying hand-written letter (yes… all caps) claimed him to be the grandson of Michelangelo (long life spans in that family). He offered to paint the cathedral ceiling for $1.5 billion. He had an extensive portfolio of his work at the MET, all of which had unfortunately been stolen. His return address was a NY prison.
Most recently we had one alumnus promise us his art collection and then went to post an article online about how he strung us along – he actually posted our email exchanges online through a local newspaper where he was a freelancer…
We were contacted by a man whose initials were JC… “The Second.” That was printed on his checks. Theoretically, because I worked at a cathedral, he would have been my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. I think you get the picture.
The first letters came with small gifts memorializing certain people in history not known for being very nice, but other than that, they were not altogether bizarre (other than the checks… with no address, and envelopes, with no address, and I don’t think they ever had a post mark, come to think of it). Then he started sending calligraphy letters – ornate, multi-colored things where the first letter was always in a text box and if you looked closely, you realized it was actually a monk in a position that was shaped like that letter. They were actually pretty. His brief insights were little sermons on mankind, sports, and one time, pizza. A month or three would go by, and we’d get another one. Then one day his letter didn’t have a check, but instead had fingernail clippings taped to the letter. Then I began wondering if the ink in the letters was actually ink.
He sent a self-portrait once, a drawing of him holding a globe in one hand, releasing birds in the other, with famous books on the shelves around him and the wood in the walls etched with the words “SCIENCE” and “REASON” with busts of Shakespeare and I think Galileo behind him, and it very much reminded me of something MC Escher would have done if he’d decided to immortalize himself in a mimeographed paper fresco.
One letter he said something like “I grant you a prophecy” or “I give you the gift of prophecy.” Which was great, because about two weeks later, I woke up one morning and the very first thought I had was “Deforest Kelly died.” Out of the blue, that was my first waking thought. I didn’t think about it again; I just blew it off. Then I went to work, and a friend of mine who was also a big Star Trek fan called me from New Hampshire to say “did you hear about Deforest Kelly?!? Sure enough, Dr. McCoy really was dead. I’ll never be able to prove my premonition aside from the fact that when my friend told me the news, I immediately nearly blew out her eardrum telling her what had happened. Sadly, it was the only thing I ever predicted (and technically, my vision actually came after the fact).
At another organization I worked for, a person visited our offices and asked for a tour. He indicated to the receptionist that he was opening a business in town and wanted to contribute philanthropically to our organization for which he had the utmost respect. One of my gift officers gave him a tour and talked with him about making a major gift. He then initiated contact her but soon it became apparent that he was stalking her. Our IT dept. was able to track the email servers he was using and actually traced the servers back a few years until they came up with a photo of him. In tracking the servers, they found out he was using a number of aliases. We immediately called the police who in turn, discovered warrants out for his arrest in another state. It was a bit unnerving to say the least. We cooperated with the police dept. and my staff member called him to set up an appointment for him to come and see her the next day. Plain clothes officers were waiting for him in our lobby and when he walked in, he was immediately arrested. I have no idea what happened after that.
In the days before the Internet was commonplace, we got scammed by a couple at one of the hospitals I worked for. The wife had surgery and was laid up in the hospital for at least a month. The husband portrayed themselves as major philanthropists from St. Louis and he also claimed to be a great friend of the late Yul Brynner and had started up a foundation that carried Yul Brynner’s name with several million in assets. While the wife was recuperating from surgery, the husband asked if he could stay at the hospital to be closer to his loving wife (she was about 20 years older than he and on Medicare). The hospital agreed and he set up shop right in her hospital room – complete with a pull out bed, table for a desk, phone, even meals, all free of charge. I seemed to be the only person that suspicious of them so began sleuthing. True, I found some photos of the two of them at a black tie gala in St. Louis, but anyone can have their picture taken, no? As I began to put more pieces of the puzzle together, the trail began to smell of fraud, and it turned out that I was correct in my assumptions. Turns out he was wanted for being a scam artist. So the hospital was out the costs that the insurance did not cover for his wife plus all that we had fronted in terms of the room, amenities, meals, phone, etc. He and wife were both kicked out of the hospital, but I don’t know if any criminal action was taken. By the way, all of the data he had created about the Yul Brynner Foundation was a fraud too. So much for the “millions of dollars” he was going to contribute to the hospital.
We received a phone call from an individual not associated with us who told the sad story of visiting our campus with his very ill wife who has since died. He claims the visit was one of his wife’s last happy days and now he wants to give a significant gift in her memory. He wants to talk with the president about this and leaves a number for a return call. Searching provides no obituary for the wife, the phone number does not exist, and there is no information to be found for his name.