It’s hard to think of a worse scam than stealing money from an animal rescue, but that’s exactly what happened at the Almost Home Foundation in Schaumburg after internet thieves hijacked their Facebook page.
Kristin Cibulka is executive director of the shelter, which finds new homes for about 1,000 dogs and cats a year, many of whom would otherwise be euthanized.
On Aug. 19, a group of internet conmen believed to be from Nigeria, took control of the foundation’s Facebook page.
"Our Facebook is our lifeline. It’s where we showcase all our animals. It’s where we do the majority of our fundraising," Cibulka said.
Almost immediately, the fraudsters began putting up pictures from other websites of rare and highly desirable puppies, saying they could be adopted for a down payment of up to $400 payable via Zell, or Venmo.
"They were posting them with intent of getting deposits, saying ‘we have this beautiful puppy. First person who gives us in positive $400 gets the dog’," she said.
The shelter believes at least 30 people, and possibly many more, were scammed out of thousands of dollars. They say Facebook, or Meta was unresponsive, so they turned to their local congressman for help.
"And so they came to us in desperation, and we were able to help," said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.).
Krishnamoorthi’s staff was able to get ahold of Facebook, which returned control of the page to the shelter after 12 days of illegal activity.
"I’m also concerned that this happens way too much. And I hope Meta takes measures to prevent this," Krishnamoorthi said.
"As a nonprofit you’re doing the best you can with what you have. And to take from people who are truly trying to make a difference for these animals, and save these lives, it’s just so sad," Cibulka said.
Those who got scammed are advised to contact Venmo, Zelle or their bank, and try to get their money back. The Almost Home Foundation says the scam also cost them many thousands of dollars in lost contributions.