RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- At first, Sylvia Wiggins thought the odd phone calls from donors were a joke. But as they quickly increased in frequency, Wiggins and her staff at Helping Hand Mission in Raleigh learned they were the result of a scam targeting the nonprofit organization.
"I was so offended and appalled at it, and it just hurt me so bad to know that people were using my name. And the fact that I'm out here doing what I'm doing, and saying please send this money to his card," said Wiggins, the Executive Director of Helping Hand.
According to North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, Helping Hand Mission was victimized in a two-part scam; first, a staffer clicked an attachment, allowing the scammer access to their e-mail contact list. Then, the scammer created a similar e-mail address as Helping Hand Mission, and began soliciting a variety of requests, all posing as Wiggins.
"I've had all kinds of different reasons that they need money: stranded, somebody's sick. I'm out of town and can't get to my account," said Wiggins.
In one e-mail shared with ABC11, the scammer asked for money to purchase an iTunes gift card for her niece.
"Phishing scams sadly are becoming more and more common. We had a double-digit increase in the number of security breaches that were the result of a phishing scam last year," said Stein.
Helping Hand Mission, which has been around for 40 years, does not solicit money directly via e-mail, and does not have an app, card, or PayPal account that users can donate toward.
To prevent being victimized by a scam, here are a few tips:
1) Reach out directly to an organization through a number posted on their official website or visit in person
2) Double check the e-mail address. If you've communicated with the organization in the past, it likely will come up as saved in your contacts
3) Look closely at the URL, as many phishing sites use "http" instead of "https." A URL with "https" will also usually include an icon with a closed lock next to it
Stein said his office is unaware of any other charitable solicitation scams in the state, though he continued to warn people to be aware.
On Thursday, Raleigh Police posted a warning about scams on Facebook. Off-camera, a spokesperson told ABC11 that it was a general warning, noting they have seen ebbs and flows in these types of scams during the past few years.
Raleigh nonprofit Helping Hand Mission targeted by scammers