In case you’ve been cowering under a dry rock for the last month and a half, you already know that catastrophic flooding hit Southern Louisiana in August; the Red Cross called it the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
A recent article in the Louisiana Weekly applauds the efforts of generous donors to help rebuild the area via $11.2 million in donations to GoFundMe campaigns but fails — as often happens with these things — to recognize the possibility of fraud and misuse with anything more than a footnote.
Let’s take a look:
You may have heard flooded, south-central Louisiana residents say their plight would get more attention if the storm that struck them in mid-August had been named. That may be true, but more money has been raised on GoFundMe’s crowd site for the state’s recent flood victims than for people in any natural disaster since the California firm was founded six years ago.
Since mid-August, GoFundMe donors have given over $11.2 million to help Louisiana, exceeding $7.4 million for Nepal’s 2015 quake sufferers and $2.5 million for California’s 2015 wildfire victims, company spokesman Bartlett Jackson said last week. “In a widespread emergency, the benefit of donating on GoFundMe is you see exactly where your money’s going,” he said. “Families can get help quickly and directly, and donors can follow their progress and recovery.”
Ah yes, Nepal. $7.4 million raised sounds wonderful, until you ask yourself — as any reasonable person should — where all that money went. Apparently, that question is still open.
“Millions of dollars has been raised in the name of earthquake victims. But thousands of people are still homeless and aid is yet to reach the victims,” writes Kishor Panthi in HuffPo World this past July. “The questions have been raised about raised amount to help the victims in the quake-hit Nepal. There is no record of millions of dollars, which has been raised in the aftermath of the earthquake. And a large amount of the money is having disappeared into fraud and corruption.”
There is no record
And that, my good friends, is exactly the trouble with millions of dollars flowing through GoFundMe campaigns versus legitimate, IRS-registered charities. The Red Cross is accountable to donors and authorities via financial reporting, whereas you may not even know if campaign organizer Debbie Dogood is even who she says he is, much less how she will spend your money.
So what if you gave money to Debbie Dogood via her GoFundMe sob story only to find out Debbie is actually MISS ROSE OBI creating GoFundMe campaigns from a cyber cafe in Lagos between sending millions of spam emails about inheritances in the amount of $500000000US?
The Louisiana Weekly says:
[I]f a participant suspects that donations weren’t distributed properly, GoFundMe addresses that complaint and can reimburse the individual.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office issued a press release in August stating that the Louisiana Department of Justice teamed with GoFundMe to add additional fraud protections and that “new communication streams have been established so red flag notifications are immediate.” The release also said GoFundMe “will make every effort” to refund anyone who does not get the funds as well as refund owners who believe the funds were not properly distributed.
That’s interesting, because that’s not an official GoFundMe policy. In fact, it clearly warns you before donating that your money could potentially disappear into the abyss and you’ll be SOL.
Obviously, GoFundMe can refund donors if they’re offering to do so for anyone ripped off via a fake Louisiana flooding campaign. Why those campaigns and not others?
Well, the answer to that is a no-brainer. Press. With all those tens of millions raised and the state Attorney General’s office keeping an eye on campaigns, it would behoove GoFundMe to be on their best behavior.
Imagine, if you will, if every campaign were under the same scrutiny. If ever Attorney General in every state were minding the store. If GoFundMe were so afraid of bad press, they kept a closer eye on the crap happening on their platform day in and day out. What a wonderful world it would be.
[Ed. note: GoFundMe announced a refund policy change moments before this article went to press. That change will be discussed shortly, but we have kept our statements as is, as they were in effect at time of writing on October 4, 2016]