Local News

Debit-card fraud robs thousands from charity for orphans

Posted May 14, 2010 4:53 p.m. EDT
Updated May 14, 2010 8:01 p.m. EDT

— The leader of a charity that helps Ugandan orphans wants other nonprofits to be aware that their bank accounts are not protected from debit-card theft that cost her charity nearly $30,000.

The Wake Forest-based charity Embrace Uganda brings food, medical care and an education to some of the country's more than 2 million orphans.

"We're 100 percent volunteer-run," said co-founder Paige Hamp, who volunteers as the charity's executive and is the adoptive mother of a Ugandan girl.

Embrace Uganda's corporate account recently fell victim to what RBC Bank officials believe was debit-card fraud. Most likely, Hamp said, volunteers in Uganda used their debit card at a bank ATM with a skimming device that rips off account information and personal identification numbers.

"By the end of this one-month period, 119 transactions took almost $29,000 out of our account," Hamp said.

That money would have gone to build a well at a primary school, provide emergency medical care, run an orphanage, create scholarships and support volunteers on the ground.

"My stomach was sick," Hamp said. "All I could see was all the faces of these kids who already have nothing (now) having even less than nothing."

RBC Bank on Friday offered to reimburse the charity $6,400.

Representatives said the bank was not required to reimburse any funds because Embrace Uganda had a corporate account. In an e-mail, RBC spokeswoman Dorsey Landis said that fraud protections in federal law "do not apply to business credit cards in the same way they do with personal cards."

The Electronic Funds Transfer Act and the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act protect individual but not corporate bank accounts from unauthorized transactions.

Landis said they did alert the nonprofit of the suspicious activity. Hamp said the bank spoke to a volunteer who was depositing a large check and was unsure of what to do.

Hamp canceled the account a week later after she saw the paper statement reporting the loss of thousands of dollars.

Embrace Uganda is trying to raise funds to replace those that were stolen. The North Carolina Theatre in Raleigh is donating 20 percent of each ticket sold for its production of "Annie," which runs July 24-Aug. 2.

Hamp said board members have also donated money to help with the loss.

Hamp said she thinks bank officials need to make it clear to nonprofits that corporate accounts are not protected from fraud.

"I would hate it to happen to anyone else where other kids might suffer," she said.

Landis says business clients and all other clients should monitor their accounts closely and frequently for fraud detection and prevention. Clients can help safeguard against fraud by keeping records of all of their financial transactions and verifying their account statements on a monthly basis or more frequently via Internet banking or at ATMs. If they notice a discrepancy or missing information, they should advise the bank immediately.

Hamp said the nonprofit will go to two accounts instead of one. That way donations are in one account with no debit card access and the other account will have limited funds with debit card access. She is also looking into an insurance policy to protect against identity card theft.