After raising nearly $400,000 in donations on popular charitable giving site GoFundMe with an inspiring story of a homeless man who gave his last $20 to help a stranded woman motorist, the story is now alleged to be a fraud perpetuated by a couple in conspiracy with him. The three have been charged with second-degree theft by deception and conspiracy to commit theft by deception.
The story began to unravel because of infighting among the co-conspirators. While the homeless veteran claimed that the couple withheld his promised funds, they retorted they feared providing him such an immediate windfall would result in the funds being wasted on drugs. It was later claimed that the couple had gambled extraordinary amounts and purchased cars and other luxuries for themselves. A subsequent police investigation led to text messages describing the scheme.
Charitable giving schemes in the wake of tragedies (real or invented) or based on inspirational stories are a common type of fraud. Of course this is not the first time GoFundMe has been used for fraudulent purposes and it won’t be the last. Donors should be vigilent in evaluating the sponsor and recipient of such efforts whenever making donations outside of reputable charities. In this instance, GoFundMe has committed to refunding donor amounts.