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London company warns of scammers using its name to target charities: ‘It’s just disgusting, really’

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SEATTLE -- Thieves are impersonating a London company to scam charity organizations in Washington state and all over the U.S. out of money.

A director of Syte Architects says it’s been going on for three months.  Oliver Barsoum says he’s heard from more than 100 nonprofit groups so far who thought they were getting a big donation from his company.

“It`s quite sad. You get some people calling us to thank us for the donation. We have to quickly tell them that they are a victim of a scam,” he said.

It all started on December 29 when charity groups in Washington state and elsewhere started receiving emails and even cashier’s checks for as much as $44,850 from a man they thought was with Syte Architects.

Here’s how the scheme works. The scammers send the charity an email offering to make a large donation to the charity in memory of a loved one.

"The author's mum or the author's sister and how she has recently passed away and how he would like to memorialize this family member by donating to that particular nonprofit's cause,” said SeaTac Det. Robin Fry.  The non-profit deposits the check but before it can clear, the scammers contact the charity with a desperate plea.  The author of the email claims his accountant sent too much money -- funds that were supposed to help a sick little girl.

The author wrote, "I had pledged to get funds to this family for her dialysis machine which is going to save them a lot of hospital trips and medical bills and she is due for surgery this week."

The thief asks the charity to wire a portion of the money back.  The check sent to the charity never clears and the organization is out thousands in stolen money.

"It's just disgusting, really, that they put the effort into ripping off other people. More so, ripping off people who are trying to help people,” said Barsoum.

The crooks even set up a fake website, www.Syte-Architects.com that looks exactly the same as Barsoum’s real site, www.SyteArchitects.com.  He says they tracked the domain for the fake website to Australia and reported the fraud to Yahoo, who hasn’t taken it down, which is frustrating.

“It’s not a good thing to have our company associated with a fraud involving so many people,” said Barsoum.

Fry is trying to gather enough cases to prosecute the thieves but needs help to keep the investigation alive.

“I am looking for other nonprofit agencies, whether you've been targeted in these emails, or whether you believed and if you believed, there's no shame in that and silence is not golden in this case,” said Fry.

She is asking anyone who has received a cashier’s check or been contacted by the crooks to email her at Robin.Fry@kingcounty.gov or call her at (206) 973-4906.