Calamities, Inviting Fraud

AP Uncovers ‘Scams and Waste’ Rampant in Pulse Shooting GoFundMe Campaigns

Pride flag

As all of you know, we have been on the various Pulse shooting GoFundMe campaigns like green on salsa verde from the get-go. Given the horrific nature of the crime and the large number of victims involved, the chances of at least a few (read: several) phony campaigns popping up was as likely as the sun rising in the east. The “official” Equality Florida campaign for Pulse victims — which, for the record, is still active and accepting donations — has raised $7,791,580 from 119,241 people since it was created on June 12.

Just three days after the Equality Florida campaign went up, a California woman says someone stole a photo of her brother off Instagram and pawned him off as their son, giving him a completely different name and claiming he was shot and killed in the attack. That campaign was removed shortly thereafter.

One has to wonder just how many campaigns just like it were never discovered.

At the same time Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told the Washington Post her office was looking into 100 campaigns in June, GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne said the platform “had vetted and was in communication with more than 150 campaigns raising money related to the Orlando shooting.” He also said that GoFundMe “quickly removed a few campaigns who couldn’t verify the connection to the individual,” yet stuck to his guns and repeated that fraudulent campaigns are rare. <sarcasm>So rare, in fact, that ‘a few’ of the 150 campaigns were pulled from the site in the days following the shooting, natch.</sarcasm>

GoFundMe continues to claim that fraud makes up less than one tenth of one percent of campaigns on the platform; using that calculation, it would take 1000 campaigns before finding a single fraudulent one. All this time, we have assumed GoFundMe is simply underestimating the amount of fraud on its site; now we’re thinking perhaps GoFundMe is actually misunderstanding or purposely misinterpreting the actual definition of fraud. Lacking criminal prosecution of many of the campaigns simply pulled from the site, it might be difficult to determine intent. Without knowing how, exactly, GoFundMe defines fraud, it’s difficult to know if their estimate is accurate or simply underestimated on purpose.

I digress, I’ll be here all day talking about that if I don’t get back to the topic at hand: the Pulse shooting.

The Associated Press recently looked into the more than 430 GoFundMe campaigns put up in the wake of the Orlando shooting and found a proliferation of “waste, questionable intentions and little oversight.”

From the report:

The Associated Press examined 30 campaigns chosen from throughout the lengthy list produced by a GoFundMe search for “Orlando shootings.” Within a month of the June 12 shootings, they had raised more than $265,000.

Half said donations would be used for legitimate-sounding purposes: to cover funeral, medical and other costs. Some campaign organizers were relatives of the dead or wounded. A high school basketball coach raised $15,297 for the family of Akyra Murray, a star player who had just graduated before dying in the attack.

But most campaigns lacked key details, such as exactly what the donations would cover or even who was asking for them. Only nine of the 30 organizers agreed to interviews.

One man wanted money for travel costs to Orlando to shoot independent news video. He hadn’t raised anything two months later. Another organizer raised just $25 for travel money to hold a community healing ceremony inspired by ancient shamanic rituals. She dropped that plan in favor of sending painted rocks with an inspiring word of support.

In addition, AP found a wide range of campaigns from a man selling his gold hotpants to honor the victims to a weapons-accessories dealer to set up personal safety classes.

In the latter campaign, Craig Berberich writes:

This senseless violence needs to end. People need to learn how to be aware of the dangers around them and more importantly escape these situations. We want to aid those that were injured or taken from us and their families while also setting up training programs for people to educate themselves.

It raised $100 of a $50k goal.

It’s also worth adding that many campaigns put up quickly after the shooting purported to raise money for significant medical bills victims of the shooting would face. While many of these were no doubt well-intentioned, Orlando Health and Florida Hospital announced recently that the hospitals would write off approximately $5 million in unreimbursed medical care for Pulse victims they treated.

Lastly, analysts say the $23 million raised so far by the legitimate OneOrlando fund (which includes funds raised by the Equality Florida GoFundMe campaign) may not even begin to cover the needs of survivors as well as families of the victims.

Anyone with concerns about Pulse shooting campaigns is welcome to contact the Florida AG’s office at 866-9-NO-SCAM.