7 Tips for Avoiding GoFundMe Tricksters

Personal crowdsourcing site GoFundMe targeted by scammers: Internet Scambusters #677

In principle, raising money to meet personal and charitable needs via the popular GoFundMe Internet service is a great idea.

In practice, users — whether donors or fundraisers — must take special care to ensure they don’t fall victim to scammers who are targeting the site.

In this week’s issue, we explain how the scams work and what you can do to avoid getting caught out.

Now, here we go…

7 Tips for Avoiding GoFundMe Tricksters

People helping people — there’s nothing better, and that’s one of the reasons why the crowdfunding site GoFundMe has become so popular.

It’s not so much for people with business ideas to find backers but more a great way for us to show support for charitable causes and individuals with ambitions or financial woes.

But it’s inevitable that, just like charities, fundraising sites like GoFundMe are also attracting their share of scammers.

We’ve written before about crowdfunding scams in Internet Funding Projects Lead to New Investment Scam.

But that issue mainly looked at them from an investment point of view.

Things take a turn for the worse when you discover how well-intentioned people who only want to help or to be helped are being ripped off.

For example, a family from Tennessee recently discovered that a fake GoFundMe page had been set up using a photo of their 7-year-old who suffered brain impairment after almost drowning in a swimming pool.

The family themselves had set up a legitimate page to try to raise money towards expenses but the scammer simply stole their photos and others he found online.

Not only did this steal money from people who really wanted to help but, as a result of the scam, both the fake and the genuine pages had to be removed.

Other scammers have simply invented stories, again using stolen pictures, and then broadcast their appeal for money on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

And yet others have been known to post appeals for money they say they will donate to needy causes and various charities but never do.

In a further example, a scammer contacted a recently bereaved man whose wife had died after childbirth complications.

The crook offered to set up a fund to collect donations for the family, which the man agreed to, but the money was never handed over.

There are many more tales of woe on a Facebook site called “Go Fraud Me — Tales of GoFundMe Fraud.”

A further possibility, that we have not seen yet, is that crooks may set up lookalike pages to trick people into believing they’re donating to a GoFundMe page.

All of this is really sad since the vast majority of the funding campaigns and certainly the organization itself are perfectly legitimate.

It’s also a fast and easy way to set up urgent campaigns, such as those that tend to follow natural disasters.

The site itself is full of genuine stories with happy endings. Even so, it’s important to know that, although it’s free to post a campaign, the site points out that “fees are deducted from each donation.”

The company, which was founded by two entrepreneurs a few years ago and for which a majority stake was sold to an investment fund, is valued at $600 million, according to Wikipedia.

GoFundMe Guidelines

The firm has published its own tips and guidelines for security.

“Many measures are taken to ensure a positive fundraising experience for both GoFundMe users and donors alike,” it says.

“The GoFundMe community is designed to reward authenticity and transparency during fundraising campaigns.”

Key points from the GoFundMe safety page include:

  • Only donate to users you personally know and trust. Even then, the company points out, there’s no way to guarantee a page contains accurate or truthful information.
  • When you donate, look for a security indicator — a lock icon or a green bar in your web browser — to confirm it’s a secure transaction.
  • Beware of pages with links to other pages where you supposedly can use “alternative payment methods.” Use only the “Donate” button on the page.
  • Always check the “Created By” area at the top right of every donation page to help you make an informed donation decision.
  • Fundraisers should never give banking information or passwords to anyone claiming to be from GoFundMe. The company doesn’t ask for or store this information. A separate payment account is set up for each campaign using the WePay service, which is the only place you’ll be prompted for information.
  • Never arrange to meet anyone who contacts you claiming to be from the organization.
  • Finally, if in doubt, don’t donate.

Check the full page on the link given earlier for more information.

If you experience any problems or suspicious activities, whether you’re a donor or fundraiser, you should contact GoFundMe immediately.

Alert of the Week

People newly arriving to the United States as refugees or immigrants are a prime target for scams.

If you’re among them or you know someone who is, it’s worth checking out a special scam alerts page set up by the Federal Trade Commission.

It features downloadable documents including a fraud handbook for spotting, avoiding, and reporting scams and a poster on how to identify scammers posing as government officials.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.