The web has become a wonderful place to join together and help people in need. Sites like GoFundMe and YouCaring have risen in popularity as years have passed, to the point where it might be difficult to scroll through Facebook or read your news online without seeing a link to a donation website. These websites give us all a chance to send money to people struggling with funeral costs, home damage, cancer, adoption fees, and any other pressing need. As we all know, though, the web is not always a trustworthy place, something that has been highlighted once again during the recent bout of hurricanes. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were accompanied by numerous fraudulent (or vague and likely deceptive) online fundraising campaigns created by people trying to take advantage of the chaos. For instance, one fundraising campaign said it was run by Jason Derulo and that he was raising money for Irma victims, but there was no proof Derulo was involved, and the campaign no longer exists. And before that, as Harvey hit, there were plenty of suspicious, unverified fundraisers drawing suspicion. In response to the potentially fraudulent campaigns, GoFundMe set up pages specifically for Harvey-related campaigns and campaigns for Irma victims.
Does this mean you shouldn’t give? Of course not. But when you decide to help, you should always be a little bit critical of who you give to. When it comes to things like natural disasters, you can always take the safe route and donate to charities like Convoy of Hope, UNICEF USA, and even local food banks in the affected area. You can also check to see if a fundraising site has set up a specific page for the event, like GoFundMe has done. However, the types of fundraisers we see on GoFundMe or YouCaring typically address issues that aren’t really covered by major charities. And sometimes it can be difficult to figure out which fundraisers are really worth donating to. If you don’t actually know any of the people involved in the fundraiser, but you find their story touching, you simply need to look out for some warning signs.
One type of fundraiser to be wary of is the kind that includes minimal details. If a story is vague, or if there’s hardly anything written about the issue, consider searching for another fundraising campaign that is more detailed and believable. You can also message the person running the campaign and ask them questions, or even ask them for any kind of source that backs up their story (like a local news article that might link to their fundraiser). Take note of whether it sounds like you’re talking to a real person who’s giving believable details.
And always check the websites that the campaign (or campaign runner) provides as proof. To avoid accidentally visiting virus-ridden websites, you can always go to Norton’s Safe Web website and enter a URL before actually clicking on it. Be sure to check that news articles are being hosted on real news websites; you can go to the news article’s homepage, and you can do a Google search for the news station to see if it’s legit.
Also keep an eye out for fundraisers run by celebrities. As the Jason Derulo story shows, people might pose as celebrities to gain more traction. Try visiting the celebrity’s Twitter, Facebook, website, or other social media to see whether they posted a link to the fundraising campaign.
Keep in mind, though, that being critical doesn’t mean you have to shut yourself off from all opportunities of online giving. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate online fundraisers run by people who are in serious need. It’s important to note that GoFundMe has a guarantee that promises to return your money if a campaign ends up being a scam. So if it looks like a fundraiser is legitimate after you’ve looked it over carefully, go ahead and follow your heart.