Red Cross: I’m Seeing Red, and Getting Cross

I had something happen to me last week that I thought I should blog in case it happens to someone else. I guess I’d call it a reverse scam warning.

Back when the whole Fort McMurray fires disaster happened, I texted “fires” to the red cross number advertised so I could donate. I didn’t really think much more about the donation, was just glad I could help.

Then, last week, I got a call from an unknown number. I was in the middle of a back and forth exchange with Uber Support, so I thought maybe they were using a different number, so I picked up. That was my first mistake.

The person on the other end of the phone was not from Uber. He was a very British fellow. He said that he was from something called Listen in London, and he was calling me because I had given to the Red Cross Alberta fires appeal. I said yes, in fact I had. At this point, he asked me for my name. Then he told me the call was being recorded, thanked me for my donation, telling me all the things the Red Cross had been able to buy with the donations received. I thought that was nice.

Then, because of course there is a then, he asked if I wanted to give more, either in a one-time donation or on a monthly basis. This was when all the red flags went up. I know better than to give to people who call me. I said I wasn’t keen on giving over the phone for myriad reasons, and is there a dedicated page where I can go online and give? He did not want to give me any of that, claiming that it was less overhead if I gave right now over the phone. Really? A dude calling overseas soliciting donations is less overhead than me just going to a website? He also said that *after* I agreed to give, he would give me a phone number where I could call and confirm all of this. After? Really?

This is where sensible me should have exercised my powers of the hangup button. But I was not sensible me. I objected a few more times, but he managed to convince me to give in. I thought since this call was being recorded, I would be transferred to a verification department, at which point I might be able to get out of this. But oh no, he asked for my credit card number.

I was in shock. This dude who was recording my phone call was going to take down my credit card number? I don’t think so. It was then that he said that he wasn’t recording at this point. And against all of my better judgment, I went ahead and gave. This was immediately followed up by me yelling at myself for being so goddamn stupid.

True to his word, he gave me a phone number that did go to the Red Cross. But this was where things got cute. I called that number, and asked the guy who picked up if the Red Cross was using a firm from the UK to call people who already donated to the Alberta fires appeal. His response was “How do I know? I’m not aware of all of the Red Cross’s outbound call centres. And why on earth would a guy from the UK be calling on behalf of the Red Cross?” This was not what I wanted to hear from the number given to me to confirm the authenticity of this British dude. I tried to explain, but he got more and more upset with me, so I let him go.

Now I was convinced I had been scammed, so I called my credit card company and put a block on the card. I also messaged someone I know who works for Red Cross. She had also never heard of this, and agreed with me that this sounded like the scammiest scam that ever scammed. She started asking around, but said it would take a while.

Because I couldn’t leave well enough alone, I called back, and tried another extension, and thankfully got a more knowledgeable fellow that did confirm that the British guy was calling on their behalf. He also confirmed that my name went into the database. That made me feel miles better.

Also, my friend rattled the right cages, and a nice woman was able to listen to both my British fellow’s call, and the first agent I contacted when I called Red Cross. She totally understood why I thought I had been scammed. She explained that the first agent I got was one of their overflow pool, who just sort of steps in to take calls when all their in-house people were busy, so he really wasn’t super knowledgeable about all this stuff. The second guy I got was one of their dedicated team, and that’s why he understood.

I think this experience was a warning shot for me. I was lucky and I did end up not being taken for a ride. But it could have easily ended badly. Hopefully, next time, I won’t be such a pushover. Sadly, I know all these things, but I still let him persuade me to go against my gut.

But at least the Red Cross was very good and got back to me pretty quickly, apologizing for the missteps and explaining how they happened. That made me feel infinitely better.

So, if this happens to you, it’s probably not a scam. Always check after getting a suspicious call, but the Red Cross is in fact calling people back who have texted “fires” to help out the folks in Alberta. But I wish I didn’t have to go through all kinds of rigmarole to confirm that I haven’t been scammed. That shouldn’t be the way things work. Here are my suggestions:
The telemarketer should know my name. If he doesn’t, I already start doubting the legitimacy. Also, inform as many people in your organization as humanly possible that such a blitzis going on. It’s never good when I call the number that’s supposed to confirm that everything is on the up and up, only to be met with a response filled with utter confusion.

I like giving to the Red Cross…I could have done without all the surrounding drama. Hopefully others haven’t gone through the same.

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