The Barrozo family of Loma Rica were among many Californians left homeless by wildfire last month – and unfortunately, because they lived in an old mobile home, they were not able to get insurance on it.
Wanting to help, family friend Steve White set up a GoFundMe campaign with a modest goal of $5,000 to help with housing needs falling short of their FEMA grant.
Campaigns on crowd-sourcing sites like GoFundMe are common after disasters, and are a direct way to link people in need with resources. White’s campaign is legitimate – but donors should be aware of scams, such as those that popped up after the Las Vegas shooting in September. Although stories of families losing everything tug heartstrings, experts say it’s best to do a little checking before donating.
There are telltale signs of potential fraud.
The organizer’s Facebook account is brand new
They have fewer than 40 ‘friends’
Photos attached to the campaign are readily available online (which can be determined by running the photo through a reverse image search, such as Google’s.
Signs of a legitimate campaign include specific information of the organizer’s relationship with the victim/family, multiple images, preferably some including the organizer, and, best of all, a video posted by the organizer.
GoFundMe guarantees that if campaigns are misused, donors will be refunded. If a campaign organizer doesn’t give the funds raised to the intended recipient, GoFundMe will give the undelivered amount to the right person, GoFundMe spokesperson Kate Chichy said in an email.
“Misuse on the platform is rare, making up less than one tenth of one percent of all donors,” she said. “We take fraudulent campaigns very seriously, and we have put multiple processes in place to ensure transparency across the platform and empower donors.”
In the case of White’s campaign, it was easy to check as I had reported on the Barrozo family after the Cascade Fire and had their phone number.
White, a family friend, wanted to do something for the Barrozos because not only did they lose their home, they lost the 250 birds that were both a livelihood and a source of calm and comfort for Frank Barrozo, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD.
As of Friday, the campaign had raised $728 of its goal, White said. He intends to keep it going as long as it takes to get the family back on their feet.
In any charitable giving, people should do their research, said Danielle Hale of the Sacramento Better Business Bureau. While the emotional appeal of a well-crafted crowd-sourcing campaign might be persuasive, be sure to have the facts.
“You want your money to end up in the right hands,” Hale said. “No matter where you donate, do the research.”
For giving to national organizations, the Better Business Bureau website give.org offers detailed reports on the charities’ programs and spending.
“If all else fails, go with your gut,” she said. “If something seems off about it, there probably is.”