By Summer Stephan
As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I have been doing that is through this monthly column, where I provide consumer tips on public safety matters.
We’ve all been scrolling through a social media feed when a fundraising campaign catches our eye. Either someone is raising money for medical expenses, a friend’s daughter is collecting funds for a school trip or your old college roommate is creating a life-changing product, but needs cash to get it to the market. Websites such as Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo are online platforms that allow people to donate towards charitable causes or innovative new products. Instead of having a single large investor, crowdfunding raises money through hundreds of individual donations.
As successful and popular as crowdfunding can be, there is a growing trend of fraudsters using the platform to swindle money from unsuspecting victims
Here are some steps that you can take to ensure that the crowdfunding campaign you are considering is honest:
- Research the creator of the crowdfunding campaign. Is the creator part of any lawsuits? Does the person asking for donations have a social media account that verifies their story? Do you know anyone who can vouch for the creator or their campaign?
- Consider whether the project or story seems reasonable and realistic. For example, is this organization promising a trip to the moon for a $100 donation? Does this mother really have 10 children who all have a rare disease requiring multiple surgeries?
- Look at the comments on the platform. Kickstarter and GoFundMe have comments on their respective campaigns that allow potential donors to see what past donors are saying. If most of the comments are negative, it could indicate a scam or a poorly-managed campaign.
- Finally, look at the refund policy of the campaign. If the campaign fails, is it possible for you to get your money back?
Taking time to consider researching the cause will make you better equipped to snoop out good campaigns from bad ones.
If you have already contributed and found out the campaign was a scam, here’s what you can do:
- Ask for a refund directly from the crowdfunding website. Kickstarter or Indiegogo allow you to cancel your donations if the campaign hasn’t closed yet.
- Some websites let you get a refund automatically if the crowdfunding campaign doesn’t meet its donation goal.
- Report the campaign to the Federal Trade Commission or the state attorney general if you discover a scam.
- Finally, leave a comment warning other people on the crowdfunding website about the possible scam.
I’m proud of our community’s generosity when it comes to helping someone in need and I don’t want to discourage anyone from supporting a genuine campaign. Now that you know how to prevent, identify, and report crowdfunding scams, you can feel more comfortable donating to a cause you care about.
The DA’s Consumer Protection Unit is made up of deputy district attorneys, investigators and paralegals dedicated to protecting consumers and law-abiding businesses from fraudulent or unfair business practices. To report a consumer complaint, you can call 619-531-3507 or email [email protected].
— District Attorney Summer Stephan has dedicated more than 29 years to serving justice and victims of crime as prosecutor. She is a national leader in fighting sex crimes and human trafficking and in creating smart and fair criminal justice solutions and restorative justice practices that treat the underlying causes of addiction and mental illness and that keep young people from being incarcerated.