On Thursday, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey announced formal charges against the three people involved in a viral GoFundMe campaign that raised $400,000 last year to help a homeless man get on his feet. Authorities said that “the entire campaign was predicated on a lie.”
The story went something like this…
Kate was driving home one night when she ran out of gas and was stranded on the interstate. A homeless veteran, Johnny Bobbitt Jr. showed up and gave her his last $20 for gas because she didn’t have any money on her.
In sheer gratitude for his kindness, Kate and her boyfriend Mark set up a GoFundMe for the homeless veteran. They wanted 10,000 to get him off the street. Over 14K people donated $402,000 for the homeless veteran.
In April, Bobbit told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he’d used some of the money to buy a camper instead of a house, and spent some of the money on drugs, but said he’d since entered rehab.
By September, Bobbit was angry because he’d only received $75K, so he went to the media and a lawyer. Kate & Mark confessed they’d spent the rest of the money.
Turns out the entire story was fake
Prosecutors went through 60,000 text messages and thousands of financial documents to figure out what actually happened.
Less than an hour after the GoFundMe campaign went live, McClure, in a text exchange with a friend, stated that the story about Bobbitt assisting her was ‘completely made up.’ She did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and he did not spend his last $20 to help her. Rather, D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their causes. (Gizmodo)
Here’s the kicker. They could have run the same campaign without the fraud element. The 3 of them were friends. They met at a casino. Johnny Bobbit Jr. really is a homeless veteran. They could have just posted hey, this is my friend Johnny and he’s homeless. You know, without the concocted story.
Because the issue, apparently, was that the story posted on GoFundMe was fraudulent. If fraud is proven in court, the crimes carry sentences between five and 10 years.
GoFundMe has said all donors will be refunded. According to the spokesperson;
“One fraudulent campaign is one too many, but when it does take place, we take action to protect donors,”
Except, it’s not just one fraudulent campaign…
It’s just the most recent one. And a very public one at that.
There’s the tragic story of 72 year of Robert Godwin Sr who was shot in cold blood on Easter Sunday. The perpetrator, known as the Facebook Killer, posted the video of the killing on Facebook. Within 24 hours of this horrible incident, at least 35 fake GoFundMe accounts were established! The worst part is that none of these were authorized by the family. (source)
Side note, 34 of those have been taken down. One was left remaining, despite that the family said they didn’t authorize it and didn’t want it.
There’s more. Hundreds, perhaps thousands more.
— The man who beat his dog and got $15K on GoFundMe
— And then there’s the one about the millionaire who posted a GoFundMe to pay for his dog’s vet care. He just forgot to tell everyone he’s actually rich and lives in a mansion and didn’t need their hard-earned money.
Pages and pages of stories like that at GoFraudMe.com
“I do believe there is a lot of good being done and plenty of good news stories, but the problem is it’s like the ‘Wild West’. “GoFundMe say they deploy technology to protect campaigns and donors, but the work I’m doing proves otherwise.
Much like GoFraudMe, KickScammed reports on scams found on Kickstarter. So far, they’ve repoted over 3 million in Kickstarter scams.
Will scams affect the future of crowdfunding?
Adrienne Gonzalez of GoFraudMe believes it may.
“I think the concept is fantastic, that we’ve been able to centralise charity,” Adrienne said. “In the past, if you had a real need to donate you would go to a state agency, a government agency or church, but now we’re empowered to skip all that, and to bring that need to friends and family and the internet at large. “There is potential there, I’m not going to deny that, but I think the way it is currently going it will crash and burn with a big lawsuit.
I’m not sure about that. GoFundMe hit 2 billion in 5 years, and then hit 3 billion 9 months later. That’s a lot of money changing hands.
But perhaps before you donate to a crowdfunding, might not hurt to do a little research to make sure it’s legitimate.