Scammers may try to capitalize on tragic discovery of children's remains at former residential school, BBB warns

Weeks after the remains of more than 200 children were found buried at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., the Better Business Bureau in that province is warning of possible scams aiming to capitalize on the tragedy.

In a news release Wednesday, the BBB said an "overwhelming outpouring of support" has created opportunity for scams, fake charities and fake online retailers.

"There is clearly a huge concern right now – and, you know, a lot of support – an outpouring of love and support for the Indigenous community right now in light of what has happened and the discovery that has been made," Karla Laird, senior manager for media and communications at BBB, told CTV News Vancouver.

"With those kinds of sentiments circulating, it's very easy for scammers to take advantage of that knowing that there are donors out there willing to support, willing to spend money, willing to give in you know any way that they can, and so ultimately it's playing on their generosity."

In one example, the BBB said a consumer sent a report about a Facebook ad allegedly posted by an online retailer called Tee Toro. According to the BBB, that ad said proceeds from sales would go to the Indian Residential School Survivor Society.

The consumer, who is from Surrey, told the BBB the link takes the consumer to a site selling orange T-shirts for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

"However, there is no further mention about donation proceeds anywhere on the website or at any point of the transaction process," the consumer reportedly told the BBB.

The BBB since began its own investigation into the post, saying it found the address on Tee Toro's site actually belonged to an online T-shirt company it has no affiliations with called Viral Style.

"It is believed that Tee Toro has hijacked Viral Style's address and contact information to appear legitimate to unsuspecting consumers," the BBB said of its findings.

"There have also been several consumer warnings on other platforms about Tee Toro, where consumers report making purchases of up to $54 USD and nothing was delivered."

The BBB recommends researching a stated charity and confirming it's registered in Canada. As well, it's important to get details before purchasing an item and make sure the company is transparent about how much is actually being donated, the BBB says.

Consumers also shouldn't click on pop-ups soliciting donations and should be wary of unsolicited emails, even if they claim to be linked to a recognized organization.

"Opportunists trying to take advantage of a horrible tragedy is nothing new," Laird said.

"In these recent reports, suspicious retailers seem to be using cause-related marketing strategies, where they lure in consumers with the pitch that when they conduct transactions on their platforms, some of the purchase price will help charities connected to Indigenous peoples. However, these retailer websites have no connections to the stated charities and are simply cashing in on your generosity and willingness to help others."

The discovery in Kamloops has sparked nationwide grief and calls for more searches at other such institutions.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission report found that at least 4,100 children died in Canada’s residential school system.

If you are a former residential school student in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Additional mental-health support and resources for Indigenous people are available here.