Langley Hospice Society dodged a scam recently, but it still left them out $500 and without a piano at their residence.
“It was a bit of a fiasco, honestly,” said Shannon Todd Booth, the society’s executive director.
The Doug and Fran MacDonald Hospice Residence already had an upright piano, but when an email came in offering to donate a Yamaha baby grand, staff took it seriously.
The donor, who said her name was Janice Lawson, communicated with the hospice by email and said the instrument had belonged to her late husband. She wanted to see it go to a good home, and would like to give it to the hospice.
All she wanted was for the hospice to pay the moving costs, she said.
At first, Todd Booth said the hospice wasn’t even sure they could take the piano, as it might be too big for the living room area at the residence.
But they measured the space and decided it would fit, replacing the old upright. It would allow the hospice to provide music for their patients.
“They sent pictures, they did the whole thing,” said Todd Booth.
The piano was with a moving and storage company, the hospice was told. The supposed donor provided the email address of the moving firm.
When hospice staff contacted the company to find out how much the moving fees would be, they found the cost a little high.
The firm gave an estimate of $860 for seven-day delivery, $1,150 for three-day delivery, and $1,550 for next-day delivery. The email from the movers also said they were only accepting payment via eTransfer or bank cash deposit – a note said PayPal was for friends and family only.
That was when Todd Booth and hospice staff decided to try to get another estimate.
But when they tried to determine where the piano was, for pickup by another company, they couldn’t. The original moving and storage company appeared to be based in Montreal.
Then a Google search of “Janice Lawson” and “piano” turned up warnings that it was a scam.
Pianomart.com and other websites have warned that “Janice Lawson” is a name used by scammers, who email schools or charities that might be interested in acquiring a “free” piano. Pianomart lists several email addresses linked to people going by the “Janice Lawson” name.
The hospice was not the first place to be approached. If they had turned over the money, it would likely have vanished, with no piano ever appearing.
The moving firm’s website appears professional, but a “clients reviews” section contains a list of seven people effusively praising the moving company – all seven of them are listed as “CEO of Acme Industries” and several of the photos of the “clients” appear to be taken from stock photo websites.
There is no section on the website listing staff members or executives. The office number on the site goes to a generic voicemail system. The firm’s alleged address is the location of a real Quebec-based moving firm by a different name.
Langley Hospice Society would have entirely dodged the scam, except that they had already paid $500 to a legitimate moving firm to remove the old upright piano, in anticipation of their new donation.
The scam almost worked because it isn’t uncommon for the hospice, like other charities, to get offers of donations like this, said Todd Booth.
Looking back at the original emails, she can now see that there was something a bit off. It’s made her somewhat suspicious.
“That’s the worst part, that you look at things differently,” she said, admitting she’s a bit more skeptical – in general – than a few months earlier.
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