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Mackenzie Scott Scam: Fraudsters asking Fake Donations in Billionaire's name

 

A major phishing campaign that reached tens of thousands of inboxes impersonated as MacKenzie Bezos-Scott grant foundation promising monetary advantages to recipients of the e-mail in exchange for a processing fee. 

The processing fee is referred to as an "advance fee," and it has been used since before the internet, with the "Nigerian prince" version popularising it. But this phishing campaign took advantage of the charitable acts last year from author MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. 

The scam surfaced after Mackenzie Scott revealed in December that she had donated $4.2 billion of her fortune to over 300 organizations, including food banks and other charities that assist the people in need. Ironically, one food bank in Arkansas, which had received an authentic email from Scott about a legitimate donation, initially mistook it for a hoax. 

Eyal Benishti, the CEO of tech security company Ironscales said, “That may have primed fraudsters to develop a phishing scam based on Scott's donations in the hope that some organizations would believe that they, too, are receiving valid emails”. About 200 of its customers have received the bogus Mackenzie Scott emails, although none have fallen for the bait, he added. 

Fraudsters initiated the scam by sending out spoofed emails that claimed, MacKenzie Bezos-Scott grant foundation is distributing funds from their foundation. In fact, the emails were sent not to distribute billions to charity, but fleece victims. 

However, the fake Mackenzie Scott emails had a few tip-offs that hints they weren't real: 

1. Sender’s title appeared as “Mackenzie Scott Grant” but the return email address was to the domain ‘@mintme.com’ 
2. Multiple grammatical errors in the email body 
3. Sender’s name and signature were different 

The fraudsters alleged that they are from the "MacKenzie Bezos-Scott foundation" and have chosen a recipient for a grant. Further, they ask for the recipients' full name and address, and if they answer, recipients are required to submit a small processing fee to unlock the grant. Of course, there's no grant; it's just a tactic to extort money from the victims.

Scams have escalated as a result of large-scale relief programs such as stimulus checks and the Paycheck Protection Program, which has drawn out fraudsters trying to trick people into giving away sensitive data, such as Social Security numbers. With the ongoing levels of hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, people are more susceptible to scams at the moment.

FTC Busts $110m Charity Fraud Operation



A massive campaign has been started by the US Department of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with 40 US state forces joining hands of these government agencies who are coming together to crack down a major charity fraud operation that scammed victims for more than $110million. 

The Federal agencies teamed up with 46 government agencies from 38 states and Washington DC. Those who teamed up with regulators, most of them are state attorneys general who came together to shut down the work of sister companies Central Processing Services and Community Services Appeal, Associated Community Services (ACS), and two other fund-raising spin-offs run by ACS managers, The Dale Corporation and Directele.

The scam operation initiated by the threat actors was driven by illegitimate rob calls, which have already compromised around 1.3 billion data of fundraising by the means of misleading fundraising calls, alongside obtaining donations from 67 million clients. ACS and related agencies that faced accusations by the FTC and other state agencies for this scam have agreed to settle down regarding charges. According to the FTC department, certain cases saw that the accused kept around 90 percent of the money that they received from their donors.

The scam operation has been active since 2008 and the threat actors deliberately capitalize on sensitive issues to trick donors such as breast cancer patients, homeless veterans, victims of house fires, and refugee children to encourage victims to donate. 

According to the official data, ACS and Directele both were charged for breaking FTC norms and regulations (that prohibits robocalls to first-time donors and automated calls to prior donors), having well-founded knowledge of all the outcomes. Moreover, ACS was also charged for harassing donors; It made calls around 1.3 million people over 10 times each in a single week and 7.8 million phone calls twice in an hour. Around 500 victims were called 5000 times or more than that, according to the FTC data.

However, since 2019, ACS has stopped operating, having previously charged with the subject of 20 law enforcement actions, but it is said that two accused are still operating this scam campaign with Directele and The Dale Corporation. 

“Deceptive fundraising can be big business for scammers, especially when they use illegal rob calls,” said Daniel Kaufman, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “…The FTC and our state partners are prepared to hold fraudsters accountable when they target generous consumers with lies.”