Scammers target San Antonio cancer nonprofit

Old scam uses fake cashier's check

SAN ANTONIO – Scammers using fake cashiers checks and emotional appeals are targeting cancer nonprofits.

Wings, a small nonprofit that helps uninsured breast cancer patients is the latest target. The organization helps patients find treatment, support and hope and relies on the generosity of donors.

Wings executive director Kim Hinze said the staff was excited recently after receiving a large donation.

"It was going to do such great work in the community for so many different women," she said.

The donation, however, never materialized and Wings could have been taken for thousands of dollars, except that Hinze recognized it was a trick.

The ordeal began with an email to Wings from a man using the name Edward Gonzalez.

"He was interested in making a donation in memory of his wife," Hinze said. "He wanted to donate $12,000."

After corresponding by email, the donation arrived by FedEx and it was also a lot more than first indicated. A cashier's check bearing a Chase Bank logo and a hand-written note was made out for more than $23,000.

It's not unusual for Wings to receive sizeable donations, and Hinze said the check looked authentic.

"I Googled Chase cashiers check and just from a glance, it looks just like this," she said.

Hinze deposited the check in Wings' bank account.

The emails continued and Hinze said she detected a change in the donor's tone. She said he was concerned about when the check would be in the bank.

"That evening something didn't sit right with me," she said.

The next email confirmed her suspicion. The message claimed there had been an oversight by his accountant, that he had intended to send $12,000. The balance, the email continued, was intended for a child who was in urgent need of heart surgery. "Edward Gonzalez" instructed her to wire the balance to the child's parent.

The scam attempt is not the first. The Better Business Bureau in Tampa Bay warned charities of the same scam targeting a couple of cancer nonprofits there.

"We see it almost every day, unfortunately, across the state," Christy Bachmeyer, with Frost Bank, said.

She urges consumers and nonprofits to be leery of large checks from people you don't have a relationship with.

"Any time you get a check from someone you don't know, call the (issuing) bank and ask to verify that check," she said. "Just because the check is available to spend doesn't mean the check is legitimate."

She also encourages people to call their own bank to verify that the check cleared before spending the funds.

It can take several days for a check to clear or be discovered to be fraudulent, and scammers take advantage of that timing.

Other red flags to beware of include a check larger than expected, a request to wire some of the money elsewhere and an urgent tone by the sender.

That's what tipped off Hinze. The check did indeed prove to be fraudulent, but she did not fall for the scam and wire any funds.

Still the organization was disheartened the donation was not real.

"I think it's so sickening and so sad," Hinze said.

She is warning other nonprofits to beware of cons preying on the kindness of charities.

About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.