Alright, this is by far the weirdest GoFundMe-related story we’ve ever seen, and that’s saying quite a bit considering the weird campaigns that come across our desk. There doesn’t seem to be any scam going on here, and in fact we’re presenting it to you to show the other extreme of GoFundMe gone wrong.
Here in the U.S., I hear from countless individuals frustrated with the GoFundMe reporting process, lack of action on the platform’s part, and refusal on the part of law enforcement to dig deeper into suspected frauds. In the time I’ve been covering this area it seems like GoFundMe is being slightly more ambitious about pulling campaigns that are fairly obviously fraudulent, so I’ll give them that. And to their own credit, law enforcement has seemed to figure out that existing laws can be levied against GoFundMe scammers, even if the law hasn’t quite caught up with the technology. All that said, we’re still in a weird grey area where obvious scammers can still get away with it, and not everyone who rips people off via GoFundMe is being called out for it.
The following story, however, is an extreme on the opposite side of the spectrum.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 42-year-old Scott Richards of Adelaide was detained three weeks ago in the United Arab Emirates just because he spread a seemingly legitimate GoFundMe campaign across his own social media pages and organized charity efforts for beneficiaries on the ground. The campaign — started in December last year — organizes supplies for Afghan refugees.
More tha [sic] 7000 Afghans are now living in Charahi Qambar Refugee Camp which is a muddy space that is a little larger than a couple football fields.
Their shelters are crumbling, open roofs covered with plastic sheets, cracked and brittle tarpaulins that barely protect from the harsh winter that has begun where the temperature drops well below zero. Without any sort of heating, they burn plastic to keep warm inside their makeshift homes, the toxic fumes causing immeasurable health problems and devastating the lungs of the young.
The campaign beneficiary is Zwan Family Charity, which is a registered 501c3 non-profit organization in good standing with the IRS, and a little over $17k has been raised of a $35k goal.
Now, as far as worthy charities go, the less fortunate certainly need the helping hand more than, say, that hacker who wanted a few hundred grand to buy a “service Ferrari” for his post-arrest PTSD or whatever nonsense he was spewing. And what’s more less fortunate than being a cold, hungry refugee in the middle of Afghanistan?
Civil and criminal justice advocacy group Detained in Dubai released a statement saying that the new-ish charity law was not clear, nor did average folks such as Richards even know that their volunteer work might run afoul of said law. “When a new law is enacted that could easily lead to the arrest of the average person, the government needs to take responsibility to educate the general public and should regularly publish information on laws that are likely to get people into trouble. This would include the charity laws, social media laws etc. If the government had properly educated the public (and law enforcement), Scott would not be in prison right now. There is an obligation to protect citizens and residents from (preventable) detention,” they wrote.
It is unclear what happens next for Scott as he waits without legal representation with no sign of actual charges against him.