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News / Northwest

Want to donate to that GoFundMe? How to tell if a Washington fundraiser is legit or not

By Karlee Van De Venter, Tri-City Herald
Published: March 24, 2024, 6:00am

In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, it’s commonplace for close friends and family of a victim to set up a GoFundMe page in hopes of generous community members donating to cover the costs often associated with accidents.

It also opens up the opportunity for people unrelated to the event to make a quick buck.

When 16-year-old Ethan Vargas was killed by a car while trying to cross Interstate 182 in Pasco last week, his family created a GoFundMe to cover the associated costs of his death.

Unfortunately, several other GoFundMe pages using Vargas’ name, picture and story also popped up, leaving community members confused about where to donate. Vargas’ family confirmed with the Tri-City Herald that the GoFundMe set up by family member Candie Gonzalez is the only legitimate fund that will reach the family.

So, how can you be sure you’re giving money to the right GoFundMe? The crowdfunding site has quick tips for verifying a fundraiser.

  • How GoFundMe verification works

It’s important to note that donations made through GoFundMe are protected by the “Giving Guarantee.” This protects your money in case of a scam or fraudulent fundraiser, guaranteeing your money back. If a fundraiser is taken down for fraudulence after you’ve already donated to it, that money will be returned to you, according to GoFundMe.

The company only identifies a small percentage of fundraisers as fraudulent, stating the total as less than one-tenth of 1%.

The crowdfunding site also allows users to report suspicious fundraisers, which the Trust and Safety Team then reviews. The verification process includes human reviews from world-class experts and technical tools designed to catch misuse, a GoFundMe spokesperson told the Herald by email. The team looks at which of the following facts are included on the page:

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  • Who posted the fundraiser
  • Who the funds are for (the beneficiary)
  • The account’s relationship with the beneficiary
  • How the funds will be spent
  • How the funds will be delivered to the beneficiary

“At GoFundMe, being a safe and trusted place to give and receive help is our top priority,” the GoFundMe spokesperson told the Herald. “We have a team of experts working around the clock to review fundraisers and prevent misuse.”

  • What fundraisers are removed from GoFundMe?

There are specific activities that are expressly forbidden on GoFundMe. These include:

  • Breaking the law
  • Lying about or misleading your identity as an organizer or your relationship with the beneficiary
  • Posting misleading statements in the fundraiser story

Conversely, fundraisers will NOT be taken down for:

  • Speculation of fraud or rumors
  • Images or names of individuals being used without permission of the family
  • Disagreement around the nature of the fundraiser or the character of the organizer
  • Fundraisers that have surpassed their goal but are still raising funds
  • Custody or familial disputes or disagreements
  • Multiple fundraisers set up for one purpose or the same beneficiary

In some instances, such as a dispute of the nature of the fundraiser, GoFundMe may request verification documents to determine an organizer’s validity.

For example, if a teenager dies and his family creates a GoFundMe to pay for funeral arrangements, and then the teenager’s friends create a separate GoFundMe for their hardships, using the teenager’s name and pictures, both fundraisers can stay up. However, if the teenager’s friends posed as family members or claimed also to be funding the funeral arrangements when they weren’t, their fundraiser would be taken down.

“We have zero tolerance of the misuse of our platform, and take any reports very seriously,” stated the GoFundMe spokesperson. “In the rare instances of misuse of our platform, our team takes swift action, including outright removal of the fundraiser — and in some cases even banning an account for violating our terms of service.”

  • How to know which GoFundMe to donate to

Even with all of these guidelines in place, some things can slip through the cracks. It’s important for community members to remain aware of the potential fraud associated with crowdfunding sites and do their due diligence before donating any money.

The GoFundMe spokesperson recommends donating only when you can answer the following questions:

  • How is the organizer related to the person or organization for which the donations are made?
  • What is the fundraiser’s purpose, and how will funds be used?
  • Are direct family and friends making donations and leaving supportive comments?
  • If you have any questions about the listing, you can contact the organizer directly by clicking the “Contact” button under the organizer section.
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