The crowdfunding site GoFundMe is being used to scam people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. What is the platform doing about it?
Despite the internet being a weird and wonderful place, many people are well-aware that what we see online is not always genuine.
Unfortunately, deceptive practices aren’t just limited to deepfakes or photoshopped pictures – they also take place on platforms designed to aid with fundraising projects.
The website GoFundMe offers crowd funders the opportunity to generate a global reach for their cause instead of relying solely on donations from their local communities.
But the ease of creating a page on the website has attracted significant levels of scamming activity, with some fraudsters ending up in federal court as a result of their dishonest money-making schemes.
In 2018, a New Jersey couple started a GoFundMe page to raise money for a homeless veteran named Johnny Bobbit. They claimed Bobbit gave his last $20 to them when they ran out of petrol while driving on the highway.
The couple managed to raise $400,000 over the course of the holiday season, however Johnny Bobbit quickly reported that he had not received all of the money promised to him.
The Jersey couple said they hadn’t handed over the full amount because Bobbit was homeless and struggling with drug addiction. They added that they were worried he would ‘blow the money irresponsibly’.
After law enforcement began investigating, it turned out that the entire story had been fabricated by the trio – including the ‘homeless’ veteran – with large portions of the donated money being spent on a new BMW and trips to casinos in the US.
The case is now being handled in federal court, with each of the conspirators facing mandatory probation, fines, and up to two years in prison.
The case of Sudani ‘Sai’ Summers
In February of last year, a trans woman faked their kidnapping on Twitter by posting a video claiming she was trapped inside a basement of a Latino man.
Using hashtags #FindSai and #HelpSai, Twitter users boosted the news and reported the video to the police, quickly mobilising a search to locate her. In just a few days, Sai’s already existing GoFundMe page racked up over $53,000 in donations.
But friends of Sai were unable to corroborate their story, saying that had been in contact with them and that they were safe and well. This caused immense confusion amongst Sai’s followers and other users who had been monitoring the story on Twitter.
Many noted that Sai had been requesting donations for gender reassignment surgery on GoFundMe throughout previous months and that the whole ‘kidnapping’ had been a ploy to boost funds on their page.
Of course, those who had made donations felt immensely betrayed. The LGBTQ+ community scrutinised Sai’s behaviour, stating that it would make genuine reports of trans people in danger more difficult to believe.
In the end, Sai posted an apology video acknowledging their mistake, with GoFundMe promptly returning all donations back to the senders.
if sai really faked a kidnapping just to scam people to donate for their gofundme that is SO low like wtf
These are only a few examples of the hundreds of fraudulent fundraising campaigns occurring on GoFundMe in the last few years.
Scammers have faked the death of their children, lied about developing rare health conditions, and have even hurt their own pets to raise money for ‘veterinarian bills’ in order to pull on the public’s heart strings and attract the generosity of donors.
In response, GoFundMe has assigned a specialised team to review new campaigns posted on the platform.
Its website claims that a wide majority of fundraising projects are legit, with fraudulent campaigns accounting for less than 1 percent of those submitted on their website.
GoFundMe’s policy states that campaigners who lie or mislead audiences on their identity, break the law, or use misleading statements in the campaign story are all forbidden on the platform.
Though campaigns are constantly being monitored by its employees, GoFundMe has requested its community draw attention to any suspicious campaigns by contacting its team directly.
Of course, it’s great to be generous when you can. But if a campaign seems off – or too textbook to be true – it might be worth approaching with caution before handing over your honestly earned dollar.
I’m Jessica (She/Her), a writer at Thred. I moved to London to complete a master’s degree in Media and Communications after spending two years working in fashion PR in Amsterdam. Follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn and drop me some ideas/feedback via email.
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