Crowdfunding Craze: Sniffing Out Fundraiser Fraud

Crowdfunding Craze: Sniffing out fundraiser fraud

BUNA - Instead of baking cookies or holding a garage sale, many fundraisers are turning to the internet to collect cash.

Crowdfunding online is growing. In the nearly seven years since GoFundMe started, the site has generated more than $3 billion in donations.

The site has changed the lives of many campaign beneficiaries but also created a new kind of scam.

"The OB there didn't give us any hope whatsoever," said Jessica Leibouvitz, recounting the day she went into labor. "They told us our best option was to terminate."

At a hospital in Louisiana, the advice hit Leibouvitz hard.

"I looked at her Daddy, I looked back at the ...OB and I told her, I said no. We're not doing this today. I said she's still got a heartbeat, we're going to give her a chance."

Baby Holly was born February 6th weighing 3 lbs 7 oz, just 29 weeks into the pregnancy.

Doctors didn't think she'd make it but Holly's heart keeps beating.

"We got to see her open her eyes on Valentine's Day," said Leibouvitz.

A milestone celebrated not just by the family in Buna but other members of #TeamHolly throughout Southeast Texas.

"She's doing good," said Leibouvitz. "The Doctors are saying from when she started she was really, really sick and it's remarkable the progress that she's making."

While Holly is growing stronger, she has to stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Houston for weeks to come.
With their home in Buna, Eric and Jessica Leibouvitz take turns driving to the hospital.

Part of a tight-knit community, their close friend decided to start the family a GoFundMe page to help cover their travel and hotel room costs.

"Wow, we're reaching out to people and they're saying hey, we're helping, we're going to help any way we can."

The campaign is an example of how the digital fundraiser can make a powerful impact on a family in their time of need.

GoFundMe | #TEAMHOLLY

What happens when you see a stranger's campaign and a reporter has not gone out to learn the full story?

Crowdfunding is now part of our culture. Roughly 4,800 GoFundMe campaigns are started every single day. In an age of sophisticated scams, it is hard to figure out which campaigns are legit.

We called on the experts, for help. The first stop: GoFundMe.

The company admits that with hundreds of thousands of campaigns, it's impossible to check out each and every one. Instead, the website says: "only donate to people you personally know & trust."

GoFundMe | Help Center

The site also offers a refund if an individual, law enforcement or GoFundMe finds out campaign funds have been misused.

Our next stop: the Better Business Bureau. The organization investigates all kinds of scams and keeps an eye on how a company operates.

Jarrod Wise says GoFundMe has earned an A+ rating.

BBB | GoFundMe

The BBB spokesperson says he's seen no patterns in the 59 complaints filed against GoFundMe over the last seven years.

As for feeling confident in donating to a crowdfunding site, Wise suggests:
-- Researching the page creator to  make sure they're connected to the individual in the post
-- Sort through the details to see if the information has been copied over from another web page
-- Particularly on national campaigns, see if a lawyer is in charge of dispersing the money


"The more research, the more details you do online, asking family, going to BBB.ORG, the better you can feel, more confident in making purchasing decisions or donation decisions as well," said Wise.

While the BBB handles complaints against how a site handles business complaints, gripes against an individual campaign creator are different.

We found a woman in Virginia who has investigated and helped shut down several apparent scams through GoFundMe.

Adrienne Gonzalez is a freelance writer/reporter. About two years ago she worked to get a suspicious campaign taken down and has since started the website GoFraudMe. She uses what she's learned to help others.

GoFraudMe

"The more I got people saying GoFundMe won't do anything about this, what do I do, can you help me and the more cases like that I got, the more I realized that nobody's doing this," said Gonzalez. "These people are just kind of drifting in the abyss and they're getting frustrated and they're not getting the answers they want from GoFundMe."

Gonzalez says campaigns based on a trending news story often pose red flags. Just this week she reported a campaign claiming to be for April the pregnant giraffe. Turns out the person behind the page was not affiliated with the Animal Adventure Park.

"The Nigerian princesses have moved on from sending emails to now this is the new scam."

Gonzalez also recommends using Google's reverse image search to see if the campaign photo has been stolen from another source.

A lot of her efforts to get apparently fraudulent pages taken down have been trial and error.

I believe in the goodness of the platform, I think it's great that people who really need the money can get the money," said Gonzalez. "The problem as I see it, is it's too easy for generous people .... [to be] taken advantage of. Here are the risks, know them and maybe you can make better decisions with your money."

The Leibouvitz' have seen that with the crowdfunding craze it's easy to get overwhelmed and skeptical of donating to any campaign.

"I've actually read on Facebook not too long ago where somebody said, everybody's making a GoFundMe account for this, I might as well make one for me to get my hair done," said Leibouvitz. "I do think sometimes people take advantage of their resources. Whereas people who actually do need it can't get help because people have taken it for granted."

The Buna mom says she's grateful so many neighbors can verify the legitimacy of her story and that the donations rolling in for Holly are a testament to the amount of good that can be done using crowdfunding.

© 2017 KBMT-TV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment