The Investigators: GoFraudMe, when GoFundMe goes wrong

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In a time of crisis, people's hearts take control and they dig into their pocketbooks to help as much as they can. While everyone is giving, some are looking to wrongfully benefit.

They pop up almost immediately, anytime, anywhere for just about anything.

GoFundMe is a company that started in 2010, and in just six years, it has become the world's top fundraising website, having collected more than $3 billion for various causes.

After a trying and emotional summer in Baton Rouge, many took to GoFundMe to help raise money.

"I've had a couple of GoFundMe accounts out there," said Dechia Gerald, the wife of fallen Baton Rouge Police Officer Matthew.

Dechia has had loved ones set up accounts for her and her two daughters. She said she did not have any problems.

"I have received all the funds," Gerald said.

James Tullier is the father of East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Deputy Nick Tullier. The deputy took three bullets during the ambush on police in July and continues to fight for his life. His father said a friend set up an account on their behalf.

But when so many are digging into their pocketbooks and the donations are flowing, it's also when the crooks look to take advantage of your generosity.

"We quickly heard of two other GoFundMe accounts that were set up, I want to say from the state of Wisconsin and somebody showed me a snapshot of them. One of the accounts had raised a little over $3,000. The other account raised roughly $200 to 250," Tullier said.

However, Tullier said as quickly as the two accounts went up, they were removed.

"They were taken down. Apparently, the money got drawn and these accounts were not tied to us at all. They were fake accounts. They were scams," Tullier said.

Pat Englade started Capital Area Law Enforcement Foundation, a nonprofit organization, after six officers were shot on July 17, and they have been raising money to buy equipment for officers and the affected families. He said 100 percent of their donations go to the cause, which is one of the main reasons he steered clear of GoFundMe.

"If I give somebody $500, I want them to get $500, not $400. I might as well go give it to the person as to pay some administrative fund for some GoFundMe account," Englade said.

The 9News Investigators looked into GoFundMe's service fees. According to their own website, they charge 7.9 percent per account plus $0.30 on each donation that's made.

Tullier said he does not have faith in the GoFundMe account security.

"In talking with them, they said they have security measures in place to try to stop scam accounts being formed like this," Tullier said. "For instance, they told me that this shooting here happened in Baton Rouge so if GoFundMe accounts are set up in some other states, that they tend to try to stop them but they didn't in this case. Two of them jumped up and were formed pretty quick."

The 9News Investigators put in several calls and emails to GoFundMe requesting an interview. The only response back came in July with an emailed statement from Bobby Whithorne with GoFundMe.

"It's important to understand that less than one-tenth of one percent of all GoFundMe campaigns are fraudulent. We have multiple layers of protection in place, we deploy proprietary technical tools, and have a dedicated team that works around the clock to monitor fraudulent behavior. In addition to technical tools and a dedicated team, we have a community of 25 million users – when they see something they think might not be right, they tell us, and our team looks into it. The funds raised on behalf of a family member will not be released until the individual is linked to the campaign to ensure the money is directly deposited into their account. In general, if someone has a question about a campaign, they can contact the campaign organizer directly through the GoFundMe page."

The Investigators went looking for how many different accounts there are from just the summer in Baton Rouge.

For Alton Sterling, seven accounts showed up -- three were from Baton Rouge, some others were from Pennsylvania, Michigan, one did not have a location and the one with the most money was a scholarship fund with nearly $715,000 set up from California.

WAFB made multiple attempts to verify this account with a representative from the Sterling family and was not able to determine whether the family has received any money.

BRPD officers had 11 different accounts with the majority of them being from within Louisiana, but there was one from Virginia with pictures of the three fallen officers and a summary saying the creator wants to help Deputy Nick Tullier. It opened on October 21 with a goal of $10,000. However, the wives of the three officers and Mr. Tullier all said they know nothing of the account and no one ever contacted them.

For Baton Rouge flood, the list just went on and on for numerous accounts.

It's difficult to determine if any of those accounts are fraudulent.

"I have no idea where that money goes. You would almost have to know the person it's going to and know the number of people that donated to it and how much the total amount was before you knew they received from that account," Englade said.

The good thing about GoFundMe is that it has a reach no one has.

"We had our occurrence here in Louisiana. Well, a GoFundMe tends to reach out to other states. It can reach out to other countries, anybody online worldwide could tap into that and give you a donation through GoFundMe, if it's for real, if it's not a scam," Tullier said.

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