I-Team: Go "Fraud" Me tracks phony online fundraisers

(WBRE/WYOU) -- You think you're doing the right thing by donating to an online fundraiser, and most of the time, you probably are.  But how do you know where your money is going before you open your wallet?

It's easy to donate to a crowdfunding campaign, but it's also the perfect place to scam someone.  As more fundraisers are shared on social media, Eyewitness News found a way to help you avoid a rip-off.

In this I-Team investigation, Preston Gorecki said he was attacked while waiting for his school bus in October 2015.  The then 15-year-old from Dauphin County claimed he was hit on the head with a metal rod, suffering a concussion and two broken vertebrae.

It sounds terrifying, but there's a problem -- it never happened.  Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said the whole story was made up, but the boy's father, Jeremy Gorecki, had already started an online fundraiser.

"Contributions in excess of $4,000 were made by various individuals to that account," said Marsico.

Gorecki said those donations on GoFundMe would be used to help his son attend art school, but a judge found the teen guilty of false reports to law enforcement and theft by deception, ordering him to make restitution to anyone who contributed to the account.

Adrienne Gonzalez made it her mission to investigate crowdfunding fraud.  She created a website called GoFraudMe after stumbling across a phony fundraiser for an injured cat.

"People need to know that this sort of danger is lurking about, and they need to know how easy it is for people to take advantage of that!" said Gonzalez.

Her goal is to stop people from getting ripped off, and over the past three years, Gonzalez has posted nearly 200 cases on her interactive "fraud tracker".  She said funerals, medical bills, and other personal disasters are the most popular with scammers.

"Anyone can write any story, put up any pictures, so keep that in mind and be careful when you see something that really tugs at your heart strings, because it could be completely manufactured," said Gonzalez.

So how do you know if an online fundraiser is for real or fraudulent?  Gonzalez said it can be tough to tell the difference, but here's some advice:

-Donate directly to the source whenever possible
-Avoid donating money requested by phone or mass emails
-Check Give.org, which tracks bogus charities
-Report any suspicious activity to the crowdfunding site and authorities

GoFundMe said on its website that "an overwhelming majority of campaigns on our platform are safe and legitimate", and fraudulent fundraisers make up less than one tenth of one percent of all campaigns.

Gonzalez said she's not anti-GoFundMe, because she understands how the site can help people when it's used responsibly, but she wants people to understand the risks.

GoFundMe said its users are not permitted to lie to donors for financial or personal gain, and the website also takes "swift action" to resolve those issues.  Click here to report a campaign for fraud.


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