“Please continue to help,” Bondi said. “However, do your due diligence.”
GoFundMe, the popular six-year-old personal online fundraising platform that is home to most of these campaigns, is not new to allegations of fraud: They are unavoidable on a site that lets anyone raise money for just about any cause.
But, historically, GoFundMe has attributed suspect campaigns to a handful of bad actors, insisting that GoFundMe fraud is actually quite rare. And Bobby Whithorne, a spokesman for the website, said his team is working overtime to verify campaigns centered on the Orlando shooting.
The site is in communication with the organizers of all 150 Orlando-targeted campaigns, Whithorne said, double-checking their relationships with victims and instructing them to publish plans on how collected funds will be distributed. GoFundMe also does not, as a matter of policy, release funds to any individual or family until their identity has been vetted.
“We have multiple layers of protection in place, we deploy proprietary technical tools and have a dedicated team that works around the clock to monitor fraudulent behavior,” Whithorne said. “In terms of specific Orlando campaigns, we have already quickly removed a few campaigns who couldn’t verify the connection to the individual.”
As of this writing, friends and family members have set up individual campaigns for more than two dozen victims, including Brenda Marquez McCool ($21,000 raised), Eddie Justice ($11,200), Angel Colon ($6,200), Brett Rigas ($7,600), Tony Strong ($2,500) and Eric Ortiz ($2,200). Many of the funds are earmarked for funeral expenses.
Others are soliciting on behalf of causes best left, frankly, to the donor’s discretion: A brief argument broke out in the comments section of one campaign, “Bring Annie Home #foramanda,” over allegations that a friend of victim Amanda Alvear unfairly used the woman’s name and image to avoid paying her plane fare to Alvear’s funeral.
Meanwhile, Equality Florida’s fund for victims — which has raised $3.3 million from 75,000 donors — has officially become the platform’s largest and fastest-funded campaign to date. Although some initially raised questions about how the collected money would be spent, Equality Florida has since explained that it is partnering with the National Center for Victims of Crime, an advocacy and assistance organization for victims of violent crimes, to distribute funds.
In response to criticisms that much of the donated money would get eaten up by GoFundMe’s 5 percent to 8 percent transaction fee, the site donated $100,000 — essentially waiving its cut.
Nonetheless, Bondi, the Florida attorney general, has encouraged would-be donors to stick to established disaster-relief organizations or those registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
City officials on Tuesday revealed the website for the One Orlando Fund, oneorlando.org, to raise and receive money to help those families most affected by the shooting. The Walt Disney Co., a major employer in Orlando, has already pledged $1 million.
Bondi, nonetheless, is certainly not wrong in fearing that sympathetic, would-be donors make an attractive target for the Internet’s vultures.
On Monday, the Twitter account @PulseOrlandoUSA promoted an ad encouraging followers to donate money by buying bottled water and Oreos on the site “desifreemovies.net.” Needless to say, that’s not Pulse’s Twitter account. Several people still apparently fell for it.