01/25/2013 08:38 EST | Updated 03/27/2013 05:12 EDT

Shinerama Uncovers $100K In Fraudulent Donations


A celebration at the University of P.E.I.'s Shinerama campaign for cystic fibrosis research has been cut short after it was discovered close to $100,000 of the donations came from stolen credit cards.

Shinerama is best known for the spectacle of university students taking to the streets in September to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Canada. The campaign also has an online component, with people encouraged to make donations on a web page with their credit card.

In late fall, organizers say, large sums of money started coming in on the web page.

"The idea of more donations coming in online this late in the game was really exciting. We thought, 'Maybe we'll reach a new record,'" campaign organizer Anastasia Smallwood told CBC News on Thursday.

"From there, it did end up growing to a total of $130,000 on UPEI's page alone."

That's four times more than UPEI has ever raised through Shinerama.

Local organizers grew suspicious and contacted the national office, which manages the fundraising site.

Their investigation showed the donations were in fact too big to be true. Some people were using stolen credit cards to make false donations.

"Just to donate for fraudulent reasons seems like such a bad idea, and so disheartening," said Smallwood.

RCMP say fraudulent donations to charities are common.

Const. Gavin Moore said fraudsters generally do it as a quick way to test a stolen credit card and ensure it hasn't been cancelled. Sometimes, the donation is itself a gambit for theft.

"Typically, when we encounter a large donation like that, it's usually accompanied by a call or some contact through phone or email from the fraudster saying we've made a mistake, and we want you to forward money back to us," said Moore.

That didn't happen in this case.

Cystic Fibrosis Canada says the problem was flagged early.

"We really want to assure all our donors that no donations were affected and our online donation site is protected. And we took action as soon as we found out what was happening," said David Gilmer, vice-president of funds development and marketing for Cystic Fibrosis Canada.

There's no word on whether anyone has been arrested.

RCMP said it is important for charities to monitor donations carefully.

"Make sure you know you have the payment and it's gone through safely. Monitor what's going on on your websites and at your business," said Moore.

While local Shinerama organizers are frustrated by the fraud, they are still pleased with the more than $30,000 in honest funds that were raised.