How To Spot Fake GoFundMe Pages

By Tracey Dowdy

You may remember the tragic story of Robert Godwin Sr., the 74-year-old grandfather whose murder was posted on Facebook last year. Steve Stephens approached Godwin, had him repeat a woman’s name, then shot him in cold blood. Stephens was dubbed “The Facebook Killer” after posting a video of the killing on his Facebook page. What you may not know is that within hours of the murder there were 35 fake GoFundMe pages were purporting to raise money for Godwin’s family.

One of them, created by Wesley Scott Alexander, a student at Arizona State University and a stranger to the family, has raised over $90,000. The problem is that the family had nothing to do with his page or any of the others created in the Godwin family’s name. In fact, the Cleveland Chief of Police warned against contributing to any of these pages and Godwin’s own daughter Debbie tweeted, “Please Note: We do not nor will we be starting a GoFundMe account for our father Robert Godwin Sr. If you are ask(ed) to donate to a GoFundMe account, please know it is not us. The GODWIN’S”

Another of Godwin’s daughters, @Repairerofthebr tweeted, “Today my father Robert Godwin Sr. was murdered in cold blood via FB Live. People have set up GoFundMe accounts fraudulently. Please stop it.”

GoFundMe ultimately removed all the pages except Alexander’s, though they verified his account to ensure the money went to the Godwin family.

The Godwin family aren’t the first to have their cause taken up by strangers. Sometimes the motives are pure and born out of a desire to help those in need. However, any time there’s a national disaster or even a private tragedy, scammers are quick to jump in and exploit the situation for themselves.

Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, cautions, “Disasters and tragedies generally attract questionable websites popping up and other untoward things that donors have to watch out for.”

According to GoFundMe’s Head of Trust and Safety, Daniel Gordon, fraudulent GoFundMe pages are rare and make up less than 1% of campaigns. The company uses algorithms to flag high-risk campaigns, staff members fact-check claims, and GoFundMe guarantees donations will go to the intended recipient.

If GoFundMe determines a page created after Oct. 3, 2016 is fraudulent, donors can get up to $1,000 back and the beneficiary can have as much as $25,000 guaranteed though several conditions apply.

To determine whether or not a page is legitimate, use the following guidelines:

  • Search the names of the beneficiary and the campaign organizer. Check their social media profiles and see if there is an established relationship. Note how long the social media account has been around. If it’s new and has little content, red flags should pop up.
  • Do a reverse search of images posted on the pages. A few screenshots and a quick Google image search will let you know if they’re using stock images or photos grabbed off the Internet.
  • Check out GoFraudMe, a watchdog site that monitors fake GoFundMe pages.

Finally, trust your gut. If it seems suspicious, do your research and report your concerns to GoFundMe here.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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