If you have ever wondered about the scale of GoFundMe scams happening, this article sheds some light.
Every platform built and used for good can be manipulated by crooked people and used for less than noble purposes. As this year winds down, we are bringing you the top three scams that have been pulled off on the GoFundMe platform.
If you are new to the online charity niche, GoFundMe is one of the most popular platforms for mobilising donations for charity purposes. Of course, as bees flock to nectar, scammers have made several attempts to carry out their enterprise on charity platforms.
The GoFundMe Scams
We bring you the top three GoFundMe scams. Here goes…
1. Mother Fakes Son’s Death
If this doesn’t scare you, nothing else will. The lure of lucre was sufficiently compelling for Victoria Morrison to fake terminal illness for her son. Riding on public emotion, she launched a GoFundMe campaign ostensibly to raise money for his bucket list. The unsuspecting public donated $2,000 for this scam campaign that lasted over one month.
However, she didn’t get to enjoy her ill-gotten gains peacefully. After her arrest in April 2017, she was charged with obtaining money by false pretences. Apparently, her attorneys advised her to plead guilty and is now facing up to 12.5 years in prison. The Deputy District Attorney’s statement was quite interesting:
“Victoria Morrison’s conduct in this case can only be described as evil. This woman, who was supposed to be the protector and caretaker of her four children, and the person they trusted most in life, used that trust to manipulate and deceive her children, and an entire community, for her own selfish purposes. She left a wake of destruction in her path that is one of the worst I have seen in my career. The pain and emotional trauma she inflicted on her 10-year-old son, and his three siblings, is immeasurable. They will undoubtedly spend a lifetime trying to unwind the damage she did to their very impressionable young minds…We are pleased that justice has been served in this case, and that Victoria Morrison received a prison sentence, as we, and her four children, requested. We hope that this sentence brings closure to the children and the community, and that they can continue the healing process.”
2. On-Air-Personality Scams Public
Perhaps he realised the advantage of being a public figure. He just chose to ignore the responsibility that goes with it by gaming the system. J.G Spooner was a sports radio host in Cleveland, Ohio. He set up a GoFundMe campaign for his childhood friend ostensibly to offset health bills for the treatment of her cystic fibrosis condition. Spooner decided to help himself to $6,000 of the money raised by well-meaning members of the public.
As the police found out, it was not an isolated incident; it was one of his many criminal endeavours. Following his arrest, he pleaded guilty in 2016 and later in February 2017, received a prison sentence of 30 months for that particular offence. An order to pay more than $16,000 in restitution was also handed down with the prison sentence.
3. The $400,000 ‘Homeless Man’ Heist
This story actually takes the blue ribbon, being the most recent and maybe complicated of the lot. Not lacking in twists and turns, it hit the news last year November when a lady, Kate McClure ran out of fuel while driving in Philadelphia. As she pulled over to the side of the road, she says she was approached by a homeless man who advised her to stay safe by remaining in the car with the doors locked.
The man, Johnny Bobbit then went to a nearby fuel station and returned with fuel in a can for her. According to her, it cost Bobbit his last $20, an act of extraordinary kindness from a homeless man as she did not have any money for fuel.
To repay his kindness, McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico returned to give him cash among other gifts. By interacting with him and looking through his Facebook account, the couple also discovered a lot about his past life as an ex-Marine, paramedic and working man. Shocked and touched, they decided to launch a GoFundMe campaign to help him get back on his feet.
The emotional tenor of the campaign was almost guaranteed to pull in a fraction of its $10,000 target. Even they did not expect the public’s reaction; in just over a week, $5,000 had poured in and that was just the snowball that led to an avalanche totalling more than $400,000.
Ok, time to pause for a bit. This must have twinged your heartstrings a bit, so it is the right time to drop a bomb; the entire meeting and act of extraordinary kindness by the ‘homeless’ man was a fiction concocted by the trio to game the public.
According to the Prosecutor, it was a premeditated, carefully orchestrated and executed plan. According to him, “The entire campaign was predicated on a lie,” He further disclosed that, “Less than an hour after the GoFundMe campaign went live, McClure, in a text exchange with a friend, stated that the story about Bobbitt assisting her was ‘completely made up.’
She did not run out of gas on an I-95 off-ramp, and he did not spend his last $20 to help her. Rather, D’Amico, McClure and Bobbitt conspired to fabricate and promote a feel-good story that would compel donors to contribute to their cause.”
Emerging evidence from months of investigation revealed that the couple had gotten acquainted with Bobbit about a month before the campaign was launched while hanging out at their favourite casino. It would take less than six months for the couple to blow their way through the campaign donations. According to the Prosecutor, a text message from McClure to D’Amico in March 2018 complained that they only had $10,000 left of the money.
In August 2018 however, Bobbit suspected something was amiss. He immediately got legal representation and went public with his version of the story. Subsequent incidents reveal how emotionally involved the public had become with the homeless man. By September 2018, the police investigations were in full swing with the couple’s house also undergoing authorised search. Meanwhile, still hoodwinked, GoFundMe released an official statement affirming their commitment to release all of Bobbit’s donations to him.
In the interim, the company deposited $20,000 in a special account to be maintained by his lawyers. According to the company, “GoFundMe’s goal has always been to ensure Johnny gets support he deserves,” They further stated that, “We’re fulfilling that commitment today and we will continue to work with Johnny’s team to make sure he’s receiving all donated amounts.”
The Plot Thickens
However, the plot thickened when police investigations implicated Bobbit in the scam. In one of the text messages reviewed, McClure had told a friend that the entire story was made up. Bobbit’s involvement brought a new dimension that necessitated being taken into custody and charged alongside the couple with theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
The Splurge; How They Spent The Money
According to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, the couple spent the money on the following items among others:
- BMW Car
- Year’s trip to Las Vegas
- High-end hand bags
GoFundMe made clear its commitment to refunding all donors their monies. In a statement by its spokesman, the company said, “All donors who contributed to this GoFundMe campaign will receive a full refund…We are fully cooperating and assisting law enforcement officials to recover every dollar withdrawn by Ms. McClure and Mr. D’Amico.”
On Christmas Eve, GoFundMe announced that all the monies raised (including processing and administration fees), totalling $403,000 had been returned to the donors. Meanwhile, the case is in court with processes underway to bring it before a grand jury.
That is it on our round up of the top 3 GoFundMe Scams as 2018 draws to an end. Who knows what 2019 will bring?