And sadly, she's far from the first person to fake tragedy on a crowdfunding site for personal gain.
It's one of those stories that deflates your faith in humanity: A Florida woman is facing fraud charges for faking breast cancer and collecting $4,400 dollars in donations, reports Fox 59. Wait, it gets worse: The money came from her family and friends.
Per the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, Kelly Johanneson disappeared for a month at the end of 2013. When she returned, the 36-year-old told her loved ones she had Stage IV breast cancer and had been to a cancer center for treatment. They created a GoFundMe page. Last fall, detectives got a tip that Johanneson's cancer might not be for real. After an investigation, the woman is now facing third-degree felony charges.
Google around and you'll find that crowdfunding scams are not uncommon, thanks to the boom in sites that help people raise money for medical expenses, along with adoption, college costs, and other various needs. To be sure, there are many, many success stories. In recent months, GoFundMe, YouCaring, and GiveForward have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund medical expenses for a couple (and parents of two) who have cancer, pay for upper and lower extremity prosthetics for a woman stricken with Toxic Shock Syndrome, and even get a car for a Michigan man who walked 21 miles to work daily (a story that went viral).
As with any moneymaking enterprise, though, scammers are going to scam, especially when tragic circumstances are involved. After a 19-year-old was killed in Courtland, Mississippi, an online campaign raised more than $11,000 for her family on GiveForward. The fraud giveaway: Her mother noticed her daughter's middle name was spelled wrong, reports LocalMemphis.com. A few months ago, after a Texas man's wife died from childbirth complications, a coworker's sister set up an account on GoFundMe. After nearly $4,600 was raised, the balance was withdrawn from the account, per KXAN—and didn't make it into the husband's hands. An arrest followed.
I have a child with disabilities and have been involved in various crowdfunding initiatives over the years. Once, I raised $3,000 for the mom of a child with Down syndrome who lost her car to flooding during Superstorm Sandy. I have also contributed money to families in need that I've met online, most recently to one whose life's possessions were stolen from their trailer. That's one of the golden rules of avoiding getting scammed when you're trying to do good, among others:
• Only donate to causes you fully understand and trust, as GoFundMe states in its Safety & Security guidelines.
• The more detailed the writeup is for a fundraising page, I've found, the more likely the cause is to be authentic—especially when there is a video involved.
• Look around. Do there seem to be several fundraising pages for the same cause? Compare and contrast.
• Check the organizer's past accounts, suggests one expert. And feel free to email questions. If the person doesn't respond, it can be a red flag.