Donors Beware! More Scammers Are Targeting Crowdfunding Sites

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Whittier police warned people who want to donate in honor of fallen officer Keith Boyer to stick to the fund the Whittier Police Officers Association has created.

Donations to the WPOA Benevolent Fund can be made in person at the Whittier branch of the Credit Union of Southern California at 8028 Greenleaf Ave.

Checks should be made out to WPOA Benevolent Fund and reference account number 488879.

Checks can also be mailed to Credit Union of Southern California, WPOA Benevolent Fund, P.O. Box 200, Whittier, CA, 90608, Attn: David Valencia.

At least three accounts have been set up on GoFundMe under Boyer’s name. It is not clear if they are scams.

A little more than a year ago when Tabatha Fautuex died unexpectedly in Los Angeles, her grieving family in New Hampshire learned a shattered heart can break even more.

Thousands of dollars raised to cover the costs of transporting Fauteux’s remains and honoring her memory vanished, allegedly wiped out by their daughter’s best friend, who had started a crowdfunding campaign on the 26-year-old’s behalf.

“Just made it harder, just made things go deeper than deep. They were already at their saddest point, but to do what she did was even deeper,” said Fauteux’s mother, Sheila.

In May, Krystal Gentley will stand before a judge, accused of spending the money on shopping and bypass surgery.

“I couldn’t believe how pathetic she would be to do something like that,” said Tabatha’s father, Guy.

Consumer advocate Adrienne Gonzalez said this is not an isolated case, despite what fundraising sites would like you to believe. This kind of fraud is not rare.

“I wouldn’t have anything to do all day if it was that rare,” Gonzalez said. Every day, she adds new scams on her Facebook page – gofraudme – to warn donors.

She said cons are not unique to GoFundMe, but its size makes it a popular target.

“It’s impossible to police the site because a new campaign goes up every 18 seconds,” Gonzalez explained. “They see a story in the news. They copy the news story word for word. They take pictures from it. They don’t know who this person is, and they put up a GoFundMe campaign.”

There is no way to know how much fraud is out there. But in the past year, several police departments put out warnings about unauthorized accounts raising money for a fallen officer.

A Riverside County woman raised thousands of dollars claiming she had cancer.

After last summer’s Sand Fire, the Better Business Bureau also cautioned against scam fundraisers.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of scams because the crowdfunding itself, the industry is growing,” said Steve McFarland, CEO of the BBB Los Angeles.

According to him, there isn’t enough accountability, and donors have no real way to know if their donations are being used properly. When there is a problem, the companies don’t make it easy to talk to a person.

“We call it ‘ghost-sumer service’,” McFarland added.

Sites do take down fake campaigns.

“Communication – it has to be increased. These fundraising entities have to disclose how much money they took in and where did the funds go. And there should be some requirements on that,” the consumer advocate added.

Crowdfunding sites are responding. Youcaring issued a warning: “Youcaring cannot guarantee the full accuracy of every fundraiser that is posted. We recommend that you only donate to fundraisers when you feel confident about their cause and legitimacy.”

GoFundMe took it one step further. It now guarantees if misuse is reported and proven, it will refund donors up to $1,000 and will cover up to $25,000 for beneficiaries. But donors have to request it.

“The guarantee is sort of a false sense of security,” Gonzalez said, because most donors will never know if their money was misused, let alone ask for a refund.

McFarland and Gonzalez said people should not stop giving, just do more research.

The Fauteuxs learned that laws alone will not stop scammers, and grief is no shield against theft.

After the Fauteux story went public, GoFundMe offered to refund the money raised directly to the family.

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