CHARLESTON - Salvation Army officials in the Lowcountry were ecstatic when they received a $25,000 donation check in the days before Christmas.
The check was the biggest the charity received over the holidays, and the organization promptly cashed it to help some 100 families who had unexpectedly called in for Christmas help.
After the Army spent all the money, the bank called to say that the check had bounced.
It was part of a cruel hoax played on several other area charities during the holidays.
Capt. Anthony Juliana, head of the Salvation Army's three-county Lowcountry operation, said the loss was a big hit that could cause the charity to cut back on some of its efforts this winter, such as helping people with heating bills.
The Salvation Army assisted almost 8,000 people in the Lowcountry over the holidays, including 4,400 children under 12 who received Christmas gifts and food.
The fraudulent check was among several that someone sent out using checks and letterhead from Ladson-based armored vehicle maker Force Protection Industries Inc. The company issued a public statement on Dec. 17 warning that several nonprofit agencies had received fraudulent checks purported to be from the armored vehicle maker.
The checks were accompanied by forged letters stating they were from the company's chief executive, Michael Moody. The letter said Force Protection had been successful over the year and wanted to share that good fortune with the community, Juliana said
Force Protection said it is working with law enforcement officials to discover the origin of the fraud. It requested that anyone who receives an unsolicited check of this kind to call 843-574-0702.
The Charleston County Sheriff's Department is investigating.
It was not revealed Tuesday which other Lowcountry charities received the checks or whether any of them had cashed and spent the money.
Force Protection has been apologetic and told the Salvation Army, "we're sorry this happened to you," Juliana said.
He said that he does not know what would prompt someone to do something like this, but that the person obviously had access at some point.
Unfortunately the people who might be hurt are the needy who won't get the help they need if the Salvation Army has to cut back, Juliana said. "I'd rather give it away. I don't want to have to scale back."