Weeding out scams is a concern for GoFundMe Australia regional manager Nicola Britton, who said an investigative team was working around the clock to stop frauds taking advantage of the community’s generosity during an unprecedented fundraising effort.
The techniques of scammers can vary. On Facebook, the daughter of firefighter Bill Slade, one of four victims of the Victorian blazes, posted that a fundraising page dedicated to her father was a fake.
GoFundMe said that there had been no page for Mr Slade and his family among more than 6000 pages started for bushfire relief since November. It had also not had any fraud reports, however it was seeking more information from the family.
More common are ploys such as copycat scams, where a page mirrors the details and images of another legitimate campaign to funnel funds away from good causes.
“We’re spotting them straight away and taking them down,” Ms Britton said.
Donor activity is also tracked to check for irregularities, while a verification process similar to those used by banks helps ensure the people running the fundraiser are who they say they are.
GoFundMe emphasised that hoaxes were rare, with most people trying to do the right thing. But when the public reports a potential scam, it will be checked out by investigators.
“If there’s a flag then a hold is placed on the account while our team investigates it further,” said Meghan Luther, Trust and Safety Lead at GoFundMe.
“That could involve doing our own research on the back end, sometimes it involves initiating a conversation with the campaign organiser and clarifying any details.”
If a scam is discovered and money has been donated, the funds are returned to donors before they can be withdrawn. Most dodgy campaigns are removed before they received any cash.
One reason campaigns are removed is overlap with another fundraiser for the same cause. Another involves people with good intentions who want to help out after hearing about a story in the media.
“They may start a fundraiser and they may have no idea of anyone who’s been affected,” Ms Luther said.
“It’s only when we get in touch and say ‘this isn’t going to work, you need more of a plan’. People will say ‘OK, I understand’.”
In cases where funds are raised on behalf of someone else, GoFundMe gets in touch with the intended recipient to ensure they get the money directly without it going into the bank account of a third party.
They are given separate log-in details to withdraw the money.
“Often times they don’t want to be responsible for the money, they want it to go directly to the family,” said Ms Luther.
An ACCC spokeswoman said it was reviewing every bushfire scam report received.
“Where we believe a fundraiser may be an impersonation scam, we speak with the entity being impersonated to confirm the fundraising is not legitimate,” the spokeswoman said.
“After this confirmation, we reach out to the platform to request the page’s removal. These discussions have resulted in fundraising campaigns being removed from various websites and platforms.”
Tom Cowie is a journalist at The Age covering general news.