GoFundMe Scams: How to Identify Them and Protect Yourself

Is everyone really worth helping?

A conceptual illustration of a GoFundMe scammer.

Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

 

There are a ton of GoFundMe requests floating around social media these days. Perhaps you've even donated to a campaign. How can you be certain you aren't a victim of a GoFundMe scam when you just want to help?

GoFundMe is a fundraising website that uses crowdfunding, a method that relies on small donations from large numbers of people to meet fundraising goals.

What Is a GoFundMe Scam?

The site allows anyone, anywhere to post a campaign story in order to entice readers to donate money for the campaign cause. This could be anything from helping a family pay medical or funeral expenses to helping a young couple pay for a wedding or honeymoon. The options are endless.

GoFundMe veteran scam

Scams become part of the process when an unscrupulous person starts a fake campaign or uses donations for purposes not outlined in the campaign. These fake campaigns can take many forms:

  • A man was shot dead with a video of the killing posted on Facebook. No less than 35 fake GoFundMe accounts were established to raise money for the grieving family. The problem? None were authorized by the victim's family.
  • A completely fake story launched a single GoFundMe account involving a Marine Corps veteran, claiming to raise money on the veteran's behalf. Instead of giving money to the veteran, the scammers simply pocketed the $400,000 collected from sympathizers.
  • A mother concocted a story about her son's fake terminal cancer diagnosis, saying the money was intended pay for activities on the boy's 'bucket list' before his death. The scam? The boy wasn't sick at all.

GoFundMe scams are infinite and new ones pop up daily on the site right alongside perfectly legitimate requests for help.

How Does a GoFundMe Scam Work?

Scams on the site work by pulling at the heartstrings of readers. Because there are thousands of new accounts set up every month, the odds of a scam getting through are fairly high. To ensure the fake campaign gets funded, the scammer sends out the link through a variety of social media services including Facebook and Twitter. As people share the link, the scammer receives more and more donations.

How Do GoFundMe Scammers Find Victims?

These scammers find most of their victims through social media. However, when a campaign seems particularly compelling, the news media will sometimes latch onto it and spread it across news outlets as well. Because the news offers an increased level of authority that most people trust, exposure through those channels can attract sympathetic donations from people who go directly to the site to contribute.

Scammers rely on social media and emotion to attract contributions. They also rely on the fact that people will often share campaigns without fully researching them.

How Do I Avoid Getting Involved in This Scam?

GoFundMe itself offers a variety of tips to help you decide whether or not a campaign is safe to donate to. Additionally, consider these tips when you come across a link on a social media page:

  • Stick with who you know. Ask yourself: Is this person the organizer of the campaign? What is their tie to the situation? Do I trust them? Have they donated to the campaign themselves? Are they passing on a link from someone they also directly know or are they sharing a link from a friend of a friend? Ignore any social media requests for help that come directly from people you don't know.
  • Check the details. Images, in particular, will not be original when the scammer is not close to the situation. Try a reverse image search on Google; if the image is readily available online, it could be one the scammer found easily as well and is using to dupe others.
  • Ask for more information. Use the Contact button to send a message directly to the organizer and ask pointed questions, preferably ones that the organizer can't just answer by using readily-available information online.
  • Be skeptical. Never donate to a campaign in which you can't verify the organizer's actual tie to the situation. Just because someone says they are a friend or a family member doesn't mean they really are. Instead, look for campaigns where you can contact people you already know to confirm the situation.
  • Stay anonymous. Never put your actual name on a donation list. Scammers will scour donation lists to seek you out on social media for their next scam. If you do donate, simply use the anonymous option.

I'm Already a Victim. What Should I Do?

If you believe you have been a victim of a GoFundMe scam, the first thing to do is to report it directly to GoFundMe. Additional actions can include filing a police report and, if you feel sensitive information such as bank account, passwords, or other details have been compromised, even filing a fraud victim statement with the three major credit bureaus.

How Do I Avoid Being Targeted For This Type of Scam?

The best approach is to be proactive and stay vigilant. Scammers will take advantage of any sympathetic situation in the news, during disasters or other local emergencies, or even make up their own 'personal' story.

While the GoFundMe site itself is completely legitimate, there are other fundraising websites that are fake from the start. Some scammers will even set up fake Facebook pages or other seemingly-legitimate options to make their case seem real.

You can spot scam websites if you're paying close attention but be thoughtful about how you landed on the site: Did your web browser suddenly redirect you to an unfamiliar site or did you purposely seek it out? Did you click a link from someone you don't really know to get to the site?

Scam websites can often be part of a computer virus, so it's important to always keep your antivirus software updated. Those programs are designed to help spot fraudulent sites or detect suspicious activity on your computer.

Phishing and other email scams target users to send them to scam fundraising websites. Pharming scams, too, are a specific type of scam that direct users to fake websites specifically to steal personal and financial information.