Hidden at the bottom of a Birmingham, AL TV station’s report on students turning to crowdfunding to pay for college — including a statement from one such student who referred to GoFundMe as his ‘Hail Mary option’ — we find advice from the BBB on avoiding these types of scams.

Scams, we might add, which make up the bulk of this website as you know. Scams which seem to be increasing in number daily, and which are no longer limited to a single thief sitting in a Nebraska trailer making up cancer but go far beyond international borders. That is to say: GoFundMe is quickly becoming the new Nigerian Prince scam, and crooks across the world are scraping headlines and legitimate campaigns to populate their scammy ones.

We could talk about that for hours, so let’s get back to the WTVM report before I start to ramble.

“We always want consumers to really stop, think and consider who they’re giving to,” David Smitherman of the Better Business Bureau tells WTVM.

We’ve pointed this out more times than we care to, however it’s worth repeating while we’re on the topic: scammers are counting on the fact that most reasonable human beings would not question, say, a campaign for a sick child or for a husband and father dead in a horrific accident. I mean, who would make something like that up? The thought is unfathomable to most people, and that’s exactly what compels scammers to take advantage of generous, unquestioning people.

[Obligatory insertion of our GoFundMe fraud tracker here to give you an idea of just how many people have made something like that up in order to fleece donors]

Smitherman says it’s important to ask yourself if the campaign owner is transparent, clear about where your money is going, and forthcoming with updates to their situation. The Nigerian Princes who abuse GoFundMe and sites like it tend to treat their campaigns the same way they treat the billions of spam emails they send: just spray would-be victims like a gangbanger doing a drive-by and hope at least one bullet sticks. They have very little interest in making their campaigns appear legit, rather all it takes is a handful of donors to make the effort profitable.

The BBB adds additional warnings, all of which we agree with:

 

  • Look for campaign details: Projects that share specific information and updates have greater transparency.
  • Be careful after a disaster or tragedy: This is when emotions run high and it’s a prime time for criminals to strike.
  • Look out for scams:If you’re contacted to arrange an alternative method of payment, that’s a big red flag.
  • Only give to people you know: This is the safest and most direct way to guarantee against fraud.

One small correction: there is no guarantee against fraud. None. Think about it, if giant multi-national corporations are capable of committing fraud even with educated, trained auditors carefully inspecting their financial statements, then of course fraud can and does happen on a much smaller scale on personal crowdfunding platforms. Duh.

Giving to people you know does virtually eliminate the risk that you’re actually giving to some random dude in a cybercafe somewhere in Nigeria, but isn’t a foolproof plan.

Case in point: former Marine Michael Kocher fleeced his friends and internet strangers out of $8600 through his ‘tumor fighting fund’ on GoFundMe, which turned out to be one big hoax, perhaps to cover his cocaine habit. Friends told me at the time they also gave Kocher numerous direct cash gifts, making his total haul far greater than just his GoFundMe gains. The people close to him rallied together to support him, and you see what they got. So yeah, there is no guarantee that your best friend from 1st grade hasn’t turned into a giant piece of shit and really does have cancer.

That said, good advice in general. But yeah, maybe assume everyone is a giant piece of shit until proven otherwise. Oh sorry, that’s just my own personal philosophy.