Chris Oaks spoke with Dick Eppstein, president of the Better Business Bureau of Northwest Ohio & Southeast Michigan.
Q: Appeals have already started to pop up in the wake of California’s devastating wildfires. How many of those are likely to actually be scams?
A: Unfortunately, a great many. It’s a story that never changes, because all too often the scams are successful. Just like we recently saw with some charitable efforts after the hurricane in Florida.
And in fact, of all the scams that originate in this country, the two most common states are Florida and California. So, while we always need to keep our guard up, that’s especially true in this case.
Q: Have online fundraising platforms exacerbated the problem?
A: Without a doubt. We just learned this week that the story about the woman who ran out of gas and the homeless veteran who gave her his last $20 was all a complete fabrication — a lie that raised over $400,000.
Most people don’t realize how easy it is to start one of those GoFundMe pages or initiate a fundraising effort on Facebook. Anyone can do it, and get access to literally billions of potential victims.
Here again, with the holidays coming, everyone it seems gets into a giving mood and scam artists are ready to take advantage of that.
Q: To be fair, GoFundMe has promised to refund the money to all the donors in the homeless veteran case. And that’s not to say that all those online appeals are bogus.
A: Not at all. They’ve done wonderful things for a great many people in need. I do think, however, that the screening process needs to be better and until it is, it’s up to all of us to be vigilant so that we don’t fall for those that aren’t legitimate.
Q: How do we do that? We want to be charitable by nature, and help out those who truly need it, but is there really any way to tell?
A: The best idea is always to give locally, to people you know and organizations you are familiar with. If a local family loses everything in a fire, and their neighbors set up a GoFundMe campaign, donating to that effort is entirely different than contributing to a cause for a family you don’t know being run by someone else you don’t know.
For causes such as the California wildfires, it’s always best to make donations through the Red Cross or any number of other well-known, established and respectable relief organizations.
Q: So the bottom line is that a healthy skepticism is a good thing. Is that your message?
A: Exactly. Even when appeals come in after a local tragedy, it’s best to do some checking first to make sure that the funds will be used for the intended purpose.
That’s the other problem with online crowdfunding efforts — the lack of any real accountability after the funds have been raised and disbursed.
I would certainly never discourage anyone from being charitable, but fundraising scams not only are a waste of a donor’s hard-earned dollars and a breach of trust, they ultimately don’t do any good for those who need the help in the first place.
“Good Mornings!” with Chris Oaks airs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on WFIN, 1330 kHz. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 419-422-4545.