United States: What To Do When Your Nonprofit Becomes The Target Of A Phishing Scam

Last Updated: May 18 2015
Article by Armand J. Zottola, Morgan E. Brubaker and Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum

"Phishing" is a term used generally to describe various electronic attempts by a fraudulent actor to masquerade as a legitimate entity in order to acquire sensitive information from an individual, such as a user name, password, credit card number, or Social Security number. While phishing scams often target individuals, nonprofits can likewise suffer. During the first half of 2014, there were 6,271 phishing attacks that targeted the "dot-org" Internet domain name often used by nonprofits, according to a study by the Anti-Phishing Working Group, a consortium of industry groups and international organizations. Popular trademarks or trade names of nonprofits often are used to attract individuals to donate money or provide personal information by serving as means to create a false online identity. This misuse of a trademark or trade name can damage, among other things, a nonprofit's valuable reputation and goodwill. Phishing scams also can harm donor, member, supporter, sponsor, grantor, employee, and other relationships and can cause significant economic harm to a nonprofit.

The typical nonprofit phishing scam involves the following: An individual receives an e-mail, which appears to originate from a well-known nonprofit. The message describes an urgent reason such individual should donate money or provide information to the nonprofit for charitable purposes, either by clicking on a link embedded in the message or by replying to the message with the requested information. The provided link and/or e-mail address URL appears to be associated legitimately with the well-known nonprofit, but in a "phishing" scam, the link or address is actually controlled by the fraudulent actor/scammer. The individual mistakenly gives his or her donation or surrenders his or her own data by mistakenly providing the information requested to the fraudulent actor/scammer.

To minimize the damage, there are several steps that a nonprofit should consider taking immediately after discovering that it has become involved in a phishing scam, both to protect the nonprofit's brand and to protect individuals, who can be a nonprofit's donors, members, supporters, partners, or even employees, from further damage:

1. Identify the Scam: Phishing scams can initially be hard to identify. The act of forgery can be very convincing and sophisticated. However, recognizing a phishing attempt can allow a nonprofit to respond more quickly and prevent further damage. Hallmarks of common phishing scams include unauthorized use of a nonprofit's name, trademark, or content (or confusingly similar versions thereof); use of an unofficial, unaffiliated, or unauthorized contact ("From") address that closely resembles the addresses of a well-known nonprofit name; an email or other communication indicating that urgent action or an urgent response is required; a generic greeting to help introduce the request for a response; and other unfamiliar details in a communication that prompts an individual to want to respond to such request.

2. Gather Information: If a nonprofit discovers a phishing scam that makes unauthorized use of its name, trademarks, or web content, the nonprofit should first try to determine the scope of the phishing attempt and the type of information sought by the fraudulent actor/scammer. Determining the nature of the information sought will help later with responsive communications to thwart the phishing attempt and warn individuals against the submission of donations or information. In addition, the nonprofit should try to learn the extent to which a phishing scam uses its name, trademark, or content.

3. Form a Response Team: Designate a team and/or point person with primary responsibility for dealing with the phishing scam and for collecting necessary information. When possible, collect and maintain records or correspondence related to the fraudulent activity. Such records or correspondence not only can assist with a possible legal response; they also can aid notification and reporting efforts regarding the incident.

4. Consider Providing an Email Address for Follow-up: If necessary, consider designating an email address or other contact information that affected individuals can use to contact the entangled nonprofit regarding a phishing scam involving its name, trademark, or content.

5. Provide Notice: Post a conspicuous notice on the nonprofit's website (or send a communication providing the notification or a link to the notification). The notification should be specific enough to alert potential victims of the fraudulent activity and include steps to help the affected individuals avoid falling victim to the scam. Depending on the type and severity of the scam, consider sending an email to alert affected individuals (if known) of the fraudulent activity. Such a communication also could remind individuals to take proactive measures to protect their identity and information, such as alerting credit bureaus and/or seeking identity protection services, especially if information was inadvertently provided to the fraudulent actor/scammer.

6. Report the Scam to Law Enforcement: Phishing can not only constitute a violation of proprietary rights, it also can be a crime. Report the fraudulent activity to applicable law enforcement authorities and/or to one or more state attorney general offices. Reporting procedures vary based on location and jurisdiction. Confirm instructions for reporting by reviewing the applicable state attorney(s) general website(s). The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also offers a complaint notification process through its website. With such reporting, it is important to provide as much detail as possible. It therefore may be necessary to provide copies of relevant communications and other documentation regarding the phishing scam when possible.

7. Notify Nonprofit Employees: When employees are affected or involved, or when employees can assist with alerting affected third parties, consider providing notice to relevant personnel of the fraudulent activity and how to avoid it. Such a communication may include steps to alert other external individuals of the phishing event or provide contact information and other relevant information if a nonprofit's own employees, donors, members, supporters, or others have fallen victim to the phishing scam.

8. Notify the Applicable Domain Name Registrar: Many phishing scams operate by creating a domain name that makes confusingly similar use of a well-known trade name or trademark, either to serve as a response address or to operate a fraudulent website. Reputable domain name registrars offer takedown processes to assist with shutting down a fraudulent domain. Complete a search of the fraudulent domain name through a whois.com database to identify the registrar of the domain as well as the name of the person or corporation that has registered the domain. Use this information to contact the registrar and report the fraudulent activity.

9. Revisit the Nonprofit's Trademark Portfolio: Many phishing scams can be prevented by maintaining a robust trademark, domain name, or account registration or prosecution practice. Consider registering important trademarks, domain names, and account identifiers that third parties might naturally associate with the nonprofit. Additionally, ensure that the nonprofit's trademarks are registered in important geographic areas, such as the United States, European Union, and other key countries where the nonprofit is or plans to be located, operate, or provide services. Moreover, maintain a robust brand protection and maintenance program in order to better protect and authenticate the nonprofit's online identity.

10. Involve Attorneys Early: Addressing a phishing scam requires prompt attention. It is helpful to involve attorneys early in the process to assist with protection, notification, and other remedial or enforcement efforts. Attorneys can provide guidance on the steps listed above and help a nonprofit assess whether further legal action against the fraudulent actor is advisable. Attorneys also can assist with takedown requests and administrative actions, such as actions available under the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) or the Anti-cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (ACPA).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions