This is a question we get a lot on Facebook: how can I tell if a fake GoFundMe campaign from a legitimate one? The unfortunate best answer here is that you can’t.
You can, however, look out for some red flags that do seem common in GoFundMe scams. GoFundMe’s advice on the matter is to only donate to people you know and trust, which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole Internet collective crowdfunding thing doesn’t it? From GoFundMe’s Safety & Security page:
Donors should only contribute payments to GoFundMe users they personally know and trust. We’re often asked how a donor can tell the authenticity of a personal cause found on GoFundMe. Unfortunately there is no way to 100% guarantee that a user’s GoFundMe donation page contains accurate or truthful information. As such, donors should not make payments to any campaigns or people unless they fully understand and trust the cause presented.
So yeah, the best advice here is not to donate at all. But if people followed that advice, we wouldn’t need to be here at all! So, here are just a few tips to help you separate the GoFundMe scams from the genuine fundraisers.
Do a reverse image search
If you’ve ever seen the MTV show Catfish, you know that one thing they often do to catch Catfishers in a lie is to do a reverse image search of the alleged Catfisher’s Facebook photos. This is fairly easy to do once you know how to do it.
To demonstrate, we’ll use a recent fundraiser brought to our attention by an astute GoFraudMe reader. The GoFundMe page purports to be for a puppy named Africa, however a quick Google search reveals “Africa” is more likely an 8-year-old dog named Buxton from a breeder in Malaysia.
If you’re on Chrome or Firefox, it’s as simple as opening up a Google Images tab in your browser, then click and drag the photo you want to check into the search box. If the scammer is lazy and stole a pic that’s all over the internet, then your result will look something like this.
If you perform a reverse image search and pictures used on the GoFundMe page show up on multiple other websites, pretty safe to say you have a scammer on your hands. TinEye is also a good resource for this. It doesn’t matter what you use, really, just that you check.
Who do you think you are?
Another somewhat simple way to get some assurance that the person raising money on GoFundMe is trustworthy is to check them out. Serial scammers often create fake social media profiles using stolen pictures and fudged personal details to gather new victims. You should be especially careful of anyone claiming to be a stranded military serviceperson — the Nigerian princes are super fond of pretending to be soldiers in order to steal your money.
Always do a quick search on someone you don’t know if you’re in doubt. A genuine person is likely to have a social media presence that goes beyond a blank Facebook with repeated links to their GoFundMe page on it.
Case in point, “Claire Skye” above who was begging for help with her puppy Africa. Her profile — which only goes back to April 21st — has been quiet ever since GoFundMe removed her page. Surely whoever was behind the scam has moved on to a new one.
A scarce social media presence and/or details that don’t add up = red flag.
The more details, the better
As a general rule, the more details a fundraiser has the better. We advise people giving to veterinary fundraisers in particular to ask for scanned estimates from the vet or, even better, for the vet’s office information so donations can be made directly. However, even that isn’t fool-proof (or scam-proof).
Case in point, this clown. He stole this cat picture off a news story, nabbed someone else’s vet bills, and ta-da INSTANT GOFUNDME!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Where is the money going? To what, exactly, are you donating? If someone is raising money on someone else’s behalf, how and when will the money be distributed? These are all valid questions and as a potential donor, you are allowed to ask them. If someone gets defensive, don’t donate.
When in doubt, don’t donate
Our last piece of advice is this: if it doesn’t feel right, for any reason whatsoever, just don’t give. All of us human beings have evolved with a pretty decent BS Detector, so don’t be afraid to use yours. It’s your money, and you don’t have to give it to anyone unless you really want to. Don’t be made to feel bad or greedy if you don’t give generously to anyone’s GoFundMe campaign — you are not responsible for their money problems. You are, however, responsible for your own safety so be safe out there and we’re always here if you want us to take a quick look at a potentially fake GoFundMe page.
Safe crowdfunding, y’all!