Local cancer charities may have been targets of scam

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Two Tampa cancer charities that received fake checks believe it was an attempt to steal their hard-earned funds.

It could be an ugly twist on the “Overpayment Scam.” That’s when someone sends you a check for too much money and then says oops, my mistake, could you do the right thing and wire back the difference? Be careful! The check could be fake and you’re just paying that money out of your own pocket!

Susan Scherer runs the RN Cancer Guide Solution and their non-profit Angel Foundation which helps cancer patients navigate oncology nurses, treatment and insurance. Peggie Sherry heads up the Faces of Courage Foundation which sends women and kids with cancer on day trips and to camps. They both got checks from someone going by the name Edward Gonzalez, who emailed that he lost his wife to cancer and wanted to donate.

The letter reads: 

My name is Edward, i will like to make a donation on behalf of my wife who recently passed away. It was a hard time watching her struggle and fight through cancer. i would like to use this opportunity to help others in need or towards a good cause to help find a cure for others struggling with cancer.

I will await your response.

Edward Gonzalez

Scherer’s first thought “It was a lot of money and you just start to think oh my god this can help 30 patients!

But surprise quickly turned to suspicion. Especially for Sherry, who was a banker for almost two decades and noticed a lot of mistakes on the check, from routing numbers that started too high, to no address for the bank.

But the biggest give away was the amount. 

“It wasn't the amount he said he was going to send me,” Sherry said.

The amount offered in the initial emails had been 12 thousand dollars. Scherer says instead, “A check comes in a Fed Ex envelope to our office for $35,850.72 cents, a very strange amount, and the Fed Ex envelope was different than the email.”

When Sherry took the check to the bank, as she expected she says they quickly flagged it as fraudulent. Meantime, she had been receiving a stream of emails and phone calls from the so-called donor saying he needed to talk to her. When she didn’t answer, the tone shifted and he even sent an email called “Police Action” threatening to report her. What for? She wasn’t sure. Someone even started sending Facebook messages to supporters planning to attend an upcoming fundraiser that it had been canceled when that was not the case.

When we called the number Gonzalez had provided, he picked up for Sherry and told her he had been trying to reach her. Once we said we wanted to record the conversation for broadcast, he hung up.

Both foundations recently had big fundraising galas that were publicized. They want to make sure no other local no- profits fall for this by actually wiring back money before finding out the check is fake.

“For someone to come and say that they lost a wife to cancer,” Sherry said, “It just makes me ill.”

Scherrer added, “I think someone who targets these organizations has no soul.”