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GoFundMe scams after Orlando club shooting

Published:Sunday | August 28, 2016 | 8:00 AM
In this Sunday, June, 12, 2016 file photo, Wilhemina Justice looks at a photo of her son, Eddie Justice, who was killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting, In the wake of his death, a friend of Eddie and another man set up a GoFundMe charity page in his memory, saying the money would pay for his funeral and victim counseling. But Justice's mother said no one consulted her about the appeal in her son's name or made arrangements to give her proceeds.

The more than 430 fundraisers posted on the GoFundMe website after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando have exposed weaknesses

inherent in these popular do-it-yourself charity campaigns: waste, questionable intentions and little oversight.

The fundraisers - an average of more than four for each of the 49 killed and 53 wounded - include travellers asking for cash, a practitioner of ancient healing, a personal safety instructor who sells quick loaders for assault rifles, and even convicted identity impostors.

"There was a deluge," said Holly Salmons, president of the Better Business Bureau for Central Florida. "It was almost impossible for us or anyone else to be able to vet."

 

LITTLE EXPERIENCE NEEDED

 

The crowdfunding sites operate outside traditional charitable circles and often beyond the reach of government regulation. Appeals can be created in minutes by almost anyone and shared around the world.

The officially sanctioned Equality Florida campaign raised more than US$7 million via GoFundMe, but another US$1.3 million went to smaller appeals - mostly set up by

people with little or no charity experience.

The Associated Press examined 30 campaigns chosen from throughout the lengthy list

produced by a GoFundMe search for 'Orlando shootings'. Within a month of the June 12

shootings, they had raised more than US$265,000.

Half said donations would be used for legitimate-sounding purposes: to cover funeral,

medical and other costs. Some campaign organisers were relatives of the dead or wounded.

A high school basketball coach raised US$15,297 for the family of Akyra Murray, a star player who had just graduated before dying in the attack.

But most campaigns lacked key details, such as exactly what the donations would cover or even who was asking for them. Only nine of the 30 organisers agreed to interviews.