WATCH | Every now and then, strangers will make a GoFundMe campaign to help the family of a deceased person they don't know. Some give the money to the family, some don't. This woman wants to make sure the latter doesn't happen.
Profiting off someone else's pain isn't new, but it's made easier today with the rise of crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe and YouCaring.
It goes like this: Person A dies. Person A's family mourns. Person B makes a GoFundMe campaign "to help cover funeral expenses." Person B keeps the money.
That's why Adrienne Gonzalez, 36, a freelance journalist, started Gofraudme.com--to make sure that doesn't happen anymore.
Adrienne Gonzalez started GoFraudMe in 2015 after failed attempts to shut down a phony campaign that claimed to raise money for a rescue cat's veterinary expenses.
"We’re the world’s only resource dedicated to reporting on, investigating and curating cases of Gofundme fraud," said Gonzalez at her office for the day--a pub in Richmond, Virginia.
Gonzalez says she receives about 30 emails a week from people reporting potential posers, phonies and outright scammers on Gofundme.
"There’s a lot of them I can’t investigate without the police getting involved. Because you need a subpoena, you need to get to the records, you know. You need their financial records."
The site has an interactive map, which lets you find fraudulent campaigns in your area.
How it works
Gonzalez will blog about cases she's seen in the news and sometimes do her own digging.
Recently, she discovered that someone raising money for their ailing dog was using a stock image of a dog found elsewhere on the internet.
A reverse image search on Google verified that claim.
Gonzalez thinks Gofundme should be able to stop campaigns like this one before they even hit the crowdfunding platform.
On the receiving end
Sheila Fauteux knows all too well what it's like to be on the receiving end of one of these campaigns.
Days after her 26-year-old daughter, Tabatha, passed away, a "friend" of Tabatha's, Krystal Gentley, started a campaign to help cover funeral expenses.
The family appreciated the gesture, but when they tried to get the money, calls went unanswered.
'We never received the money'
Fauteux called GoFundMe who told her the money had been deposited three separate times already into the friend's account.
"It was sad enough what we had to go through. Never mind, this person opens up an account a day after Tabby passes and takes the money for herself," said Gonzalez.
Campaigns with misuse are very rare, making up less than one tenth of one percent of all GoFundMe campaign.
GoFundMe does not have any ties to GoFraudMe, but it is aware of the site's existence.
GoFundMe is looking for solutions
GoFundMe, one of the biggest crowdfunding platforms in the world with 25 million donors, is aware of cases like these.
"Campaigns with misuse are very rare, making up less than one tenth of one percent of all GoFundMe campaigns. With that said, there are rare cases where people try to take advantage of others’ generosity. In those cases, we take action to protect the donors," a spokesperson for the company told Circa.
Krystal Gentley was charged with theft after starting a fake GoFundMe campaign for Tabatha Fauteux's funeral expenses and keeping the money.
The GoFundMe Guarantee
In October 2016, GoFundMe launched its GoFundMe Guarantee, which essentially says that if funds aren't donated to the right person, the company will make sure to donate the missing amount.
That's exactly what happened to the Fauteux family. In the end, they received the more than $5,000 raised by Gentley, only it was from GoFundMe.
Across the board
This problem isn't unique to GoFundMe. Crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have seen instances where a creator fails to fulfill promises.
All companies have security teams in place working full-time to verify the authenticity of campaigns, but still, some fall through the cracks.
Gonzalez suggests adding media recognition features to crowdfunding sites' interface.
For example, if someone uses a stock image of something or someone, GoFundMe would be alerted.