The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning about scammers using fake charity claims to prey on those wanting to support Indigenous causes after the preliminary findings of as many as 215 children buried at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.
The consumer watchdog said it has received a report of a Facebook ad selling orange "every child matters" T-shirts and promising all proceeds would go to the Indian Residential Schools Survivor Society.
However, when the complainant clicked on the ad, it brought them to a T-shirt seller's website with no mention of the charity.
Further investigation revealed the phone number and address listed on the website were "hijacked" and actually belonged to that of an unrelated shirt printing company in Florida that doesn't sell direct to consumers.
BBB senior manager Karla Laird said fraudsters trying to profit by piggybacking on tragedy is nothing new.
"They lure in consumers with the pitch that when they conduct transactions on their platforms, some of the purchase price will help charities connected to Indigenous peoples," she said.
"However, these retailer websites have no connections to the stated charities and are simply cashing in on your generosity and willingness to help others."
Orange shirts have come to commemorate the thousands of Indigenous children who died or went missing in Canadian residential schools and the many others who suffered physical and emotional trauma which continues to affect First Nations families and communities.
The movement was born from the story of six-year-old Phyllis Webstad, who wore an orange shirt on her first day at a residential school in Williams Lake, B.C., in 1976. A gift from her grandmother, the shirt was taken from her by school officials and never returned.
Many vendors sell orange shirts and other Indigenous-affiliated merchandise online, but according to the BBB, the ones that pledge proceeds will be donated to specific Indigenous organizations and charities should be able to provide proof of an official arrangement. Otherwise, buyers and donors can't be certain the seller will live up to the promise.
BBB also advises that any business wanting to support Indigenous causes should ensure they have a written agreement with the charity that clearly indicates how and when funds will be disbursed.
BBB says consumers can protect themselves by following these tips:
Get details before purchasing merchandise. Fake websites with the right look and feel can be set up quickly, so get background information before donating.
Do not click on pop-ups and be wary of sponsored ads soliciting donations. Scammers will use catchy headlines and flashing images to entice people to click on ads that redirect them to fraudulent websites.
Be wary of questionable and unsolicited emails. Watch out for spam messages and emails that claim to link to a recognized organization. Hover your mouse over a link to determine its true destination.
Think twice about unknown social media appeals. Watch out for private messages soliciting your support. Stay away from any offers and invitations that sound like a quick way to get money or benefits, have no paper trail, require cash only and, in some cases, prevent you from sharing details of the transaction with anyone.
Exercise caution on crowdfunding sites. Scammers like setting up crowdfunding accounts to raise money for themselves under the guise of helping others. If you decide to contribute through crowdfunding, it is safest to give to people you personally know. Remember that crowdfunding sites are not agencies and do not issue tax receipts.
Use a credit card. Avoid donating cash and be wary if a platform asks you to contribute using gift cards, wire and/or email transfer or cryptocurrency.