GoFundMe Campaigns Can Create Platforms For Fraudulent Behavior
How Can You Know Whether They Are Real or Contrived?
Perhaps you heard about the GoFundMe scam in 2017 where Katelyn McClure and Mark D’Amico launched the online fundraiser for Johnny Bobbitt, a homeless veteran, after he gave his last $20 to McClure when she ran out of gas on I-95 in Philadelphia. The story they told was the couple wanted to raise $10,000 to thank him and get him off the streets. It worked! Because of social media coverage and the international news media, 14,347 people donated $402,706 within three weeks. The only problem is it was all a scam.
The story told by Bobbitt is he didn’t get all the money and the couple said that was because he struggles with drug addiction. They didn’t want to encourage his habit. Then, the story turned 180 degrees and it was determined that the three were working together to take advantage of generous souls.
Federal prosecutors say McClure and D’Amico rapidly spent most of the money on gambling, vacations, a luxury car, clothing, and expensive handbags, much of which was later seized. The prosecutors discovered after reading text messages that the gas part was made up as was most of the story. Bobbitt pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, while Katelyn McClure pleaded guilty to one federal conspiracy charge. The sentencing is yet to come as is Mark D’Amico’s case.
The good news is GoFundMe is going to refund all donations for Bobbitt calling the behavior extremely rare and unacceptable.
In case you are concerned about the legitimacy of a GoFundMe campaign, you can go to its fraud website to see if unethical uses have been made on certain campaigns. Campaign owners are bound by GoFundMe’s terms and conditions, which do outline certain behaviors which are prohibited on the platform. Any violation of those terms can lead to shutting down the fraudulent GoFundMe page.
The GoFundMe Fraud website suggests three steps to avoid fraudulent activity if you choose to set up a site to benefit yourself, friends, family members, or just those in need:
- Do not intentionally include factually incorrect information on your campaign.
- Be sure to use the funds that are raised for the stated purpose within a reasonable period of time.
- Don’t copy another person’s GoFundMe campaign.
If you already have a lot of money, what causes are OK to set up a GoFundMe?
For example, an extremely worthy cause was the horrific events like the February 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In this case, 26,000 people donated $10.1 million to the Stoneman Douglas Victims’ Fund after the school shooting.
Life-saving medical treatment is another good reason when one doesn’t have insurance to cover catastrophic events – i.e., cancer. The ethics of care is a powerful motivating factor in helping someone get life-saving treatment.
Ethically speaking, asking others to fund their needs or activities is like asking them to put your needs ahead of theirs. It implies your needs are more valuable than theirs. It’s a selfless act to give under these circumstances and the ethical worthiness of the cause depends on the campaign not being set up for purely selfish reasons as in the case described above.
I expect to see more cases of GoFundMe fraud simply because we are no longer a society with an ethical compass. Right and wrong seems to be a personal choice today rather than based on time-honored ethical standards that we all can agree on, like the Golden Rule.
McClure, D’Amico and Bobbitt should have asked: How would they feel if someone set up a fraudulent GoFundMe site, told a heart-warming story, collected lots of money and they were duped to donate to the cause.
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on April 16, 2019. Visit Steve’s website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.