The Metro Vancouver Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning about potential scams trying to capitalize on the residential schools tragedy by tricking people who want to make donations.
“Opportunists trying to take advantage of a horrible tragedy is nothing new,” said Karla Laird, senior manager for media and communications at BBB. “In these recent reports, suspicious retailers seem to be using cause-related marketing strategies, where they lure in consumers with the pitch that when they conduct transactions on their platforms, some of the purchase price will help charities connected to Indigenous peoples. However, these retailer websites have no connections to the stated charities and are simply cashing in on your generosity and willingness to help others.”
In a consumer report to the BBB, reference was made to a sponsored ad on Facebook by an online retailer called Tee Toro. The ad mentioned that proceeds from all sales would go to the Indian Residential School Survivor Society.
The Surrey-based consumer shared: “The link takes you to their website where they are selling Orange Shirt Day / Every Child Matters shirts for US$19 - 23. However, there is no further mention about donation proceeds anywhere on the website or at any point of the transaction process.”
The BBB said its preliminary investigations show that the address listed on Tee Toro’s website belongs to an online t-shirt company, which does not appear to have any affiliations with Tee Toro. It is believed that Tee Toro has hijacked the other company’s address and contact information to appear legitimate to unsuspecting consumers.
The BBB is sharing the following tips:
- Check out the stated charity. Do not assume every organization claiming to do good is a registered charity. Visit BBB's give.org or the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to confirm if the organization is a registered Canadian charity under the Income Tax Act. You should see the charity's registration number on their website.
- Get details before purchasing merchandise. Fake websites with the right look and feel can be set up quickly, so get background information before donating. Ensure advertising disclosures are transparent and inform consumers about how much they are helping the charity by making a purchase. The promotion should specify the name of the charity and the actual or anticipated amount of the purchase that will help the charity (for example, $5 for every shirt sold). In addition, if there is some time limit on the campaign (e.g., during the month of June only) or a guaranteed minimum or maximum amount that can be raised (i.e., up to $10,000), those points should also be included in the promotional disclosure. Vague descriptions of how the collected funds will be used should be seen as a red flag.
- Do not click on pop-ups and be wary of sponsored ads soliciting for donations. Scammers will use catchy headlines and flashing images to entice people to click on ads that redirect them to fraudulent websites. Do not succumb to the pressure to make an immediate giving decision, regardless of how enticing the ad might be. Furthermore, pop-ups may include malware that compromise information security on your device.
- Be wary of questionable and unsolicited emails. Watch out for spam messages and emails that claim to link to a recognized organization. Hover your mouse over a link to determine its true destination.
- Think twice about unknown social media appeals. Watch out for private messages soliciting your support. Stay away from any offers and invitations that sound like a quick way to get money or benefits; have no paper trail; require cash only; and in some cases, prevent you from sharing details of the transaction with anyone.
- Exercise caution on crowdfunding sites. Scammers like setting up crowdfunding accounts to raise money for themselves under the guise of helping others. If you decide to contribute through crowdfunding, it is safest to give to people you personally know. Remember that crowdfunding sites are not agencies and do not issue tax receipts. Check the terms, procedures and conditions of the crowdfunding platform to find out if they review the posts for scams, if the posts clearly describe the intended use of funds, and what processing fees may be subtracted by the site when donations are made, so you know in advance how your donation might be affected. Clarify if the contributions are being collected for distribution to another organization. If so, consider cutting out the middleman and make a direct donation to the designated organization on their website instead.
- Don’t donate based on good intentions alone. There are many individuals selling orange shirts and other Indigenous-affiliated merchandise on platforms like Facebook Marketplace, with some promising that part of the proceeds will go towards supporting specific Indigenous organizations and charities. However, without proof of an official arrangement with the mentioned organizations, donors are left with no true guarantees that the seller will fulfill their side of the bargain.
- Use a credit card. Avoid donating cash and be wary if a platform asks you to contribute using gift cards, wire and/or email transfer or cryptocurrency.