Scammers Use Political Action Committees to Target Virginia Residents

By Amie Knowles

November 9, 2020

If you’ve received an email asking for financial post-campaign support, it’s best to move on.

HENRY COUNTY – You might’ve received an email over the past week asking for your help. No, it didn’t come from someone you knew. But chances are, the subject matter matters to you.

That’s because the email came from political action committees. Or so they said.

The problem was, there wasn’t a political party behind the messages. Instead, scammers waited, ready to prey on their next unsuspecting victim.

The scammers sent a couple rounds of emails. Some asked recipients to donate to President Donald Trump’s legal fund. Others encouraged sending money toward President-elect Joe Biden’s inaugural fund.

Even though scammers made up the funds, people still fell victim. It’s not surprising, considering the high-tension, widely contested election Americans experienced last week.

So what’s real and what’s fake? How do folks know where to send money for causes they’d like to support? And how do they ensure it gets there?

Proving legitimacy

Cpt. W. Davis with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office cautioned against donating to any “organization” soliciting funds, especially if they did so over the phone or computer. The problem being, the caller or emailer might not be from a legitimate organization at all.

“I would recommend that if someone wants to make a donation, they need to seek out the place they desire to donate instead of being solicited for donations,” Davis said.

While the political action committee scam popped up recently, scammers often parade as representatives from established, real organizations. For example, earlier this year fraudsters impersonating American Red Cross volunteers offered door-to-door COVID-19 home tests for sale.   

The Red Cross – the real one – quickly released a statement urging people to not open their doors for anyone making the fraudulent claim. Unfortunately for some, the official statement arrived a little too late. Not only were victims out of some money, but they also never received the promised testing kit.

When donating to an established party, it’s best to do so through their website, by sending a check to their publicly listed mailing address or by calling the organization itself.

Easy to give, hard to get back

Scammers don’t target only wealthy folks. However, they do often seek out those more likely to give. Many times, that’s the elderly.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, elderly targets tend to be trusting and polite. They often own their homes, have financial savings and have good credit. The FBI also noted that the elderly are less likely to report scams because they don’t know how or might feel ashamed for having been scammed.

And sometimes, it’s seniors behind the scam. Earlier this year, 56-year-old Maryland resident Kelley Rogers pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. He set up multiple political action committees, including Conservative StrikeForce, Conservative Majority Fund and Tea Party Majority Fund. Through emails, he promised donations would support get-out-the-vote efforts or protect the integrity of Virginia elections.

That never happened. Instead, the money went to support Rogers and his associates. In January, he was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to repay $491,299. Rogers also had to give up at least $208,954 in proceeds that he still had from the scheme.

In cases like this, however, finding out someone’s been arrested comes too late. The information’s been given and the money’s gone. By that point, there’s not much even the best detective could do.

“Typically once those funds have been sent by electronic means or by other means, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to get those back,” Davis said.

That’s because the funds given are nearly impossible to trace.

Staying safe

If someone calls unexpectedly and asks for personal information, it’s best to simply hang up.

“You should never give out personal information, including social security number, birth date, any type of credit card numbers or bank account numbers, debit card numbers and any other personal identifiers,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t give those to any unsolicited callers.”

However, straight up cash isn’t the only thing scammers go after. If a person hesitates on giving out their personal banking information, scammers oftentimes request other forms of payment. Those include electronic gift cards to retail locations like Amazon, Target, WalMart or even iTunes.

Whether a person’s asking for post-campaign support, like the most recent scam, or donations to a children’s hospital, Davis suggested givers beware. Besides, how could a Bed Bath and Beyond gift card help Trump’s legal fund or Biden’s inaugural festivities?

“That should be the hugest red flag when they ask for that at any time,” Davis said. “We commonly see them ask for iTunes cards, pre-paid credit cards. Any legitimate organization will not ask for those types of funds transfers.”

Strange requests could signal trouble

Another red flag involves sending actual dollar bills to post office boxes or addresses that don’t match up with legitimate organizations. 

“There’s been an uptick in scammers asking for cash and to mail that cash. And we have seen an uptick in people actually withdrawing these funds and mailing large amounts of cash. So you should never mail cash to any of these people,” Davis said. “We’ve had several cases of large quantities of cash being sent via United States Postal Service recently.”

The captain also encouraged people to be on the lookout for fraudsters on the phone.

“We have seen an uptick in scams, particularly these phone-based scams about family members being incarcerated in jail or having medical issues,” Davis said. “So please, continue to beware of those as well.”

Also, don’t let a local number fool you. Scammers can make any phone number they like appear on a person’s caller ID. They could be calling from Jamaica, but pose as having a Richmond number. It’s always best to call an organization and donate, rather than an “organization” soliciting money transfers over the phone.

Don’t even click

If a person scrolls through their inbox one day and notices a message they weren’t expecting from someone they’ve never made contact with before, it’s best to ignore it.

“My suggestion would be if it’s from an unknown source, I would never click on it,” Davis said.  “I would delete it and move on.”

It’s also a good idea to inform local police about fraudulent activity taking place on private accounts.

“Any time something’s in question, please just contact your local law enforcement agency before you try to send these funds – whether it be cash or other means –because once it’s done, it’s hard to undo,” Davis said.

The FBI also encouraged those experiencing elder fraud or other scams to contact their local FBI field office or submit a tip online. People may also file a complain with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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