Home Advice & How-ToGuides Donate With Confidence: How to Spot a GoFundMe Scam
Home Advice & How-ToGuides Donate With Confidence: How to Spot a GoFundMe Scam

Donate With Confidence: How to Spot a GoFundMe Scam

by Cyrus Grant

Coming together to help others is a beautiful part of being human.  GoFundMe has often been a hub of fundraising for good causes, finding headlines through the wholesome support of friends and strangers alike.  But, guess what?  Scammers can’t let us have anything nice, and have begun using the platform as a grounds for scamming generous people out of their hard-earned cash.

In this article,  we’ll cover the most common scams you’ll run into on GoFundMe, as well as the best practices for sniffing out scams and ensuring your donations go to a worthy cause.

What is GoFundMe and How Does it Work?

GoFundMe is an online “crowdfunding” company, where people can set up fundraiser pages for a variety of causes, and accept donations from all around the world.

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It’s actually quite simple to use too.  You simply set up a fundraiser page, typically featuring some written details, images, and a fundraiser goal (dollar amount).  After that it’s all about sharing the link and getting the word out.  While most fundraisers will come down to the support of those within a person’s circle of influence, it’s not uncommon for some fundraisers to go viral and bring in donations from all over the world.

As for the actual money part, you’ll want to either link a bank account when you set up the fundraiser, or alternatively name a beneficiary if the funds are being raised for someone else.  While setting up a fundraiser is free, GoFundMe does take a 2.9% processing fee on each donation, plus an additional 30 cents on each donation (for example, if you donate $50, the fundraiser will receive $48.25 and GoFundMe will take $1.75).

GoFundMe Scams

If you’re looking to show some generosity and help out with a fundraiser, but want to make sure you’re actually helping someone in need, be on the lookout for these GoFundMe Scams

Fraudulent Fundraisers

GoFundMe is an incredibly trustworthy platform for the most part, boasting a fraudulent campaign rate of only one-tenth of 1%.  That means that the odds are often in favor of a campaign being an honest fundraiser, but until the odds of fraud are 0%,  it’s something to be (slightly) wary of.  

A fraudulent fundraiser is essentially scammers setting up convincing lies in order to dupe people into giving them money for what they think is a good cause.  They’ll often set up fundraisers that mimic legitimate ones in hopes that people quickly donate without confirming they are on the correct fundraiser page.  Alternatively, some people have been caught straight-up lying about things like having a sick child, or an injured dog, or even claiming they have cancer.

Things to consider:

  • Confirm who set up the fundraiser.  If the fundraiser is on a larger scale, it will often have a verification badge of some sort on the page.  If it’s for a small or local campaign, your best bet is going to be to follow a link shared directly from the source of the fundraiser, which is often provided on social media sites like Facebook.  Do, however, pay attention to the details of the Facebook page, as it’s not impossible for a local scammer to try and create a duplicate page in an attempt to trick donors.
  • Verify the story.  Every couple of years there’s a story of a person who scammed friends, family, and even members of their church into donating hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a seemingly legit cause.  While those cases are rare, and frankly pretty tough to sniff out, you should look to reputable sources, whether it be the news or trusted people in your circle to confirm the story listed on the GoFundMe page is being truthful.
  • Keep an eye out for updates.  Most legitimate fundraisers will periodically post updates on the campaign page.  Whether it’s photos or a quick written update, most people will have a level of transparency as to how donations are helping their fundraiser.
  • Look for the campaign goal.  Every GoFundMe page has a listed dollar amount as a goal.  Keep in mind this goal when reading the details about the fundraiser, as a legitimate fundraiser will typically be open with what exactly the funds are meant for (surgery, coffin, burial expenses, etc.).  If the details are ambiguous, or the goal amount doesn’t make any sense relative to the supposed purpose, think about holding off on donations until you can get more confirmative information.
  • Reach out to the campaign organizer.  If you have any questions or would like some more details on a fundraiser, you should be able to reach out to the organizer, who will likely be more than happy to answer any questions.  It should go without saying, but if the organizer is someone who has recently lost a loved one, be kind and tactful with any questions you may have.

When it comes to catching fraudulent fundraisers, GoFundMe leans on the help of the community by asking people to report any suspicious fundraisers they may come across.  Should GoFundMe find a fundraiser was in fact fraudulent, they provide money-back guarantees to all donations (for one year), and also provide a way for beneficiaries to report fundraisers that never gave the money to the correct party.

woman running gofundme fundraiser experiencing scam activity
Pexels

Scams Targeting Your Fundraiser 

One of the most common and frustrating scams involving GoFundMe, are scams that supposedly offer something relating to your GoFundMe fundraiser.  The whole point of GoFundMe is to receive donations, with no expectation of personal gain from the donors.  If someone you don’t know or fully trust reaches out offering some kind of service or quid pro quo donation, be very alert that the person is potentially attempting to scam you.

Common scam offers include things like…

  • Someone offering to run your fundraiser for payment or a percentage.  GoFundMe makes the whole process pretty easy and straightforward.  Outside of writing a description and posting an occasional update (updates aren’t required, but add a level of transparency as to what peoples’ donations are being used for), you shouldn’t need much management, especially for payment.
  • Offers to market your fundraiser.  Another common ploy for scammers is to reach out and claim to offer marketing that will help you reach your goal.  While more awareness is obviously beneficial when it comes to fundraising, these scammers don’t actually do anything other than take your money.  Some might throw out a single social media post, but it will more likely than not be to an account that is only followed by bots.  If someone really wants to help bring awareness to your fundraiser, they will offer to do so for free and without requiring anything in return.
  • Requesting personal information in exchange for a donation.  Some scammers will claim to want to give a large donation, but will tell you they need some additional information before they feel comfortable doing so.  While this by itself is not an uncommon or even a bad practice, you have to pay attention to what exactly they are asking for.  If it’s personal information like banking information, it’s a scam.  Alternatively, if they just want more information on the cause, there’s a good chance it’s just a donor doing their due diligence.
  • Claiming they will give a large donation but need you to pay some service fee.  While the promise of a hero donor coming in and helping you hit your fundraising goal is a dream, it’s a dream scammers are readily willing to take advantage of.  They will come in and tell you they want to make a large donation, but will come up with some reason as to why you need to send them a little money beforehand.  No legitimate donation will require you to do anything, much less pay them.

Scam Links

Pretty much any sort of scam these days has a phishing variation, and GoFundMe scams are no different.  Phishing scams have to do with fake links that serve a number of nefarious purposes.  When it comes to GoFundMe, fundraisers are often shared via links, and thus they make a prime target for phishing scammers.  

When dealing with GoFundMe links, pay particular attention to these scenarios. 

  • Fake GoFundMe page.  If you click a link that appears to lead you to a GoFundMe page, double-check that the URL it takes you to is actually “https://www.gofundme.com/” and not something similar, like www.g0fundme.com.
  • Phishing links.  Before clicking on any links that go to a fundraiser page, confirm the source the link is coming from.  It’s always best to follow a link directly from the verified source/page of the campaign.  If you receive an email or text with a link claiming to be from said campaign, unless you are 100% sure you can trust the source that sent it (and confirm the source is indeed who you think they are), it’s always best to navigate yourself to the confirmed page and go from there.
  • People pretending to be involved with the fundraiser.  In this case, you’ll be contacted by someone pretending to be involved with some fundraising cause you’re likely familiar with, but will either send you to a duplicate GoFundMe page that is a ripoff of the actual fundraiser, or they might even ask if you’d like to donate to them directly to avoid any transaction fees (the 2.9% + $0.30 mentioned above).  Never donate off of the website, and always perform your due diligence before donating, even on the real GoFundMe website.

Employment Scams 

While employment scams aren’t unique to GoFundMe, there is a trend of scammers reaching out to people under the guise of employment promises.  If you are contacted about a job at GoFundMe, first confirm the job is real by checking GoFundMe’s career page, and then proceed directly from their website.  

Real employees and hiring managers will almost never direct message you, and they certainly won’t ask you for personal information without directing you to the official job listing on the GoFundMe website.  Again, be careful with any links that are sent, as phishing scams still run rampant!

Do Some Research

If you’re feeling generous and want to donate to a good local/individual cause, but don’t necessarily have a direct connection, use the magnificent tool that is the internet.  Outside of Googling information that can be corroborated online, you can also use a people search tool such as Spokeo to make sure people’s information lines up with what they are claiming online.

Once you’re confident that the cause you’re trying to help is legitimate, you can donate with certainty, and feel good about helping others!

Cyrus Grant is a writer from Southern California with a background in law and dispute resolution. When he isn’t writing he can be found deep-diving into the latest technology trends or simply spending time at the beach.

Sources

GoFundMe – How GoFundMe Protects Donors From Fraudulent Fundraisers

GoFundMe – Learn about fees

GoFundMe – How GoFundMe Protects Donors From Fraudulent Fundraisers