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New York Times

Mackenzie Scott has let go of billions of dollars. The scammer followed.

Daniel Churchill was in need of help. She was raising five children in Wollongong, on the Australian coast south of Sydney, and thousands of dollars in special treatment costs for her 10-year-old son, Lachlan, who has autism. Had to cover. She tried crowdfunding on the site GoFundMe and raised a small portion of what she expected. At the end of last year, she received a message that she believed she had solved her financial problems. This is an email from millionaire philanthropist Mackenzie Scott, the best-known novelist and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has donated half of her fortune. , Churchill allegedly stated that he was eligible for a grant. Churchill googled Scott’s name and the word “scam.” Instead of a warning, she found numerous news articles explaining how Scott’s representatives suddenly emailed hundreds of nonprofits offers financial assistance. Sign up for The Morning Newsletter for The New York Times. “People thought they were a scam, but it happened,” recalled Churchill, 34. During 2020, Scott announced a total of nearly $ 6 billion in gifts. Her unconventional gift model was widely praised for its speed and directness. But, as Churchill quickly notices, some of the benefits that seem to have no way to contact a large-scale established foundation, headquarters, public website, or actually her or her representative are scammers. It is ripe for spoofing by. Churchill had to fill out a “membership form” sent by an organization called the Mackenzie Scott Foundation to set up an online account with Investors Bank & Trust Company in order to receive the money. She was able to confirm that the Foundation had sent $ 250,000 to her account. In her name, but she was in Australia, she had to apply for a tax number and pay some relevant fees before she could access the money and start using it for Lachlan’s speech and occupational therapy. I was told there was. “I was doing my research, looking at everything they were saying to me,” Churchill said. She added that her grandmother looked up things and thought it was legal. “Everything you ask for, they send you proof. Online banks say everything is safe.” Churchill didn’t know that there was no Mackenzie Scott Foundation. Formerly Boston-based Investors Bank & Trust was integrated into State Street more than a decade ago. And Churchill didn’t deal with Scott and her team, but with a sophisticated group of scammers who were good at preying on vulnerable people. In the case of Churchill, she included fake bank portals as well as using fake Facebook pages, WhatsApp messages, and Bitcoin cryptocurrency apps to dispel a total of about $ 7,900. Bank or credit card company. Ironscales, an Israeli email security company, said it targeted about 190,000 customer-owned email accounts under the guise of a message from Scott’s representative. The company began seeing scams after Scott announced a donation of nearly $ 4.2 billion on December 15. Now, a few months after opening an account in a bank where she doesn’t exist, Churchill is aware of other obvious victims. She will continue to look at Facebook pages that claim to belong to Scott and will notice people seeking help in the comments. After that, the comment disappears. A man posted a photo of his debit card. “Snap back and forth and bank locations,” read the description next to Scott’s smiling photo. And in December Scott’s Medium Post, which announced her latest grant, a man posted a comment asking about the same business manager who raised money from Churchill. Marti Deriema, a professor of social work at the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities, said the method Scott used was essentially a sudden grant to the group and ripe for fraudsters to abuse it. Stated. “What is the gift she gave them in this crazy way she developed,” De Liema said. Even those who have Scott’s resources cannot prevent scammers from using their names. The fraudster copied the Federal Small and Medium Business Administration’s web page and impersonated the Federal Trade Commission, one of the institutions trying to combat this kind of shortcoming. Scott donates to universities, food banks, and other front-line charities, not to individuals. She doesn’t have an account on social media like Facebook or Instagram, she only has a medium page and a confirmed Twitter account with only three tweets. Her organization will never charge the recipient of the grant in advance, said someone who knows about her donation. The person refused to comment directly on the online scams taking place in Scott’s name, or the actions she might take to prevent it. Churchill further investigated and found that Scott was very unlikely to be in direct contact with her, yet she was unable to immediately withdraw from the scammer. She invested everything she could pull together to unlock those promised funds. “My son needs it for a better life, and I’ve already lost a lot,” she said at the time. Churchill shared dozens of screenshots and web pages, revealing a complex network invented to prey on the hopes of the poor. She said the scammers knew they didn’t have the money and borrowed from their grandmother and sister to cover the cost of mushroom hunting. A few weeks later, Churchill went to the local police. They told her that she was in dire straits and there was no way to get her money back. “This experience, to be honest, ruined my life,” she said. She was already having a hard time. She mainly raises five children herself and relies on government support. Her mother is near Sydney, but she is on dialysis and can’t help much. After her third-born Lachlan was diagnosed with autism, doctors said he needed professional education and intervention that she couldn’t buy. Her GoFundMe page raised less than $ 500. Stacy Wood, a professor of psychology at Scripps College, said Churchill felt that when a message from the Mackenzie Scott Foundation appeared in her inbox, Churchill made people more vulnerable to fraudsters. He said he seemed to be in pain. According to experts, one of the best ways to prevent this kind of scam is for people to come forward, but most victims blame themselves, not criminals, overcome with embarrassment, and silence. I’m protecting it. When she first approached, Churchill saw no warning from anyone else being scammed. The only web presence she seemed to have for Scott was a Facebook page full of photos of millionaires and news articles about her generous donations. Churchill sent a Facebook message to the administrator of this page asking if the email received was genuine. Someone claiming to be Scott himself immediately answered and told Churchill that the first message was from a scammer impersonating her, but they were in direct contact and could help Churchill. It was. Churchill was directed to the Investors Bank & Trust website. It looked like a professionally designed site with sophisticated photos, email addresses, New Jersey area code phone numbers, and Los Angeles addresses. Churchill agreed to the terms of use and chose a user ID and password to set up an online profile. The money appeared immediately and she believed in $ 250,000 in an Investors Bank & Trust account. The purpose of fake banking sites is to convince victims that the money is already theirs. Scam tracking experts call it “blinking.” Membership Fees, Account Fees, Tax Codes, Transfer Fees — There was a series of payments that Churchill had to make to unlock the $ 250,000 account. The scammer taught Churchill how to download the Bitcoin wallet app and send money. The bank may have tried to help her recover the funds, but when she pressed “send” in cryptocurrency, her money (a total of A $ 10,400 Bitcoin transfer) was lost forever. It was. West African-based fraudster rings often use fake banks, said Steve Baker, an international research specialist at Better Business Bureau. The Investors Bank & Trust domain is hosted by the Nigerian company Whogohost, which claims to be “the largest web hosting company in Nigeria and West Africa.” “Unfortunately, people believe that everyone should be able to recognize the scam immediately. The scammers are ridiculous,” said Baker, who writes an email magazine about scams. “These people are organized criminal groups very often.” When a group gets as much as they can from a victim, they often sell their details. Churchill soon realized that he had received many messages. One was from the International Monetary Fund and the other was from a Congolese woman who needed to help sell gold. “This is not a single scam involving a wolf,” said Kari-Anne Liebling of Scam Survivors, a group of volunteers who track online schemes. “After the first point, the victim is fooled by another scam, another scam and another scam,” DeLiema said, prominent philanthropists not asking anyone to pay to receive a gift. By warning, he said he should work harder to protect people from being the victim of scammers operating in his name. This is not an unprecedented step. Charles F. Finney, who made a fortune in duty-free shops, donated billions of dollars through Atlantic Philanthropies until it closed last year. His philanthropy has just such a warning on its web page. “Do not send money or provide personal or bank account information,” lists information for filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI. Churchill tried to warn other potential victims. She found Scott’s fake account on Instagram and was blocked by one after posting a comment that it was a scam. She believes that more organized efforts by Scott herself are needed. “She probably wants to be alone. I could imagine why she doesn’t have a website or anything. I could imagine every message she receives,” Churchill said. It was. “What she does is great, but her lack of a foundation or website is destroying people’s lives. We are also important.” This article was originally published in The New York Times. I did. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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