Editorial: Exploiting the desire to give

  • Sabrina Galusha

Published: 12/1/2017 12:04:59 AM

In every community there are people who are naturally inclined to give of themselves, with no expectation of reward or recognition. They help out of compulsion, as if there is no other path – and in their silent joy they offer this lesson: A life lived in service to others is an exemplary existence.

But in every community there are also people who are naturally inclined to take what they can however they can.

The Monitor reported on Thursday that Jeffrey Grenier of Manchester is accused of stealing thousands of dollars he claimed would go to the family of a Concord murder victim. Police say Grenier set up a page on the GoFundMe fundraiser site titled “Sabrina Galusha Funeral Fund,” but Galusha’s family never received any of the nearly $6,000 raised. Instead, Grenier used the money to buy a car, police said.

A GoFundMe spokesman said the company will make sure that Galusha’s family receives the money raised on their behalf – and that “campaigns with misuse make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all campaigns” – but that can’t fully restore the trust of those who gave in the first place. In a perfect world, GoFundMe would be a risk-free way to help those in need. But do a Google search for “GoFundMe scam” and you are quickly reminded of the imperfection of the world in general and crowdfunding specifically.

Last year, a freelance financial reporter in Virginia named Adrienne Gonzalez started the blog GoFraudMe.com, on which she has written about more than 400 examples of fraud on GoFundMe. She is just one person – and a volunteer at that – keeping track of a very popular platform where a new fundraiser is started every 18 seconds and more than $5 billion has been raised since 2010. We suspect Gonzalez has spotted only a fraction of fraudulent fundraisers, but every headline on her blog serves as a caution sign: “Here’s a GoFundMe for a fake sister who fake died in a fake accident”; “Alabama woman who faked cancer for years facing federal charges”; “Mom of amazing boy with rare birth defect discovers scammers using her son for GoFundMe scams.” If you’re looking for stories that make you feel better about your fellow human beings, GoFraudMe isn’t the place for you. But check it out anyway, because when it comes to charitable giving, ignorance isn’t bliss.

If Grenier is guilty of running a GoFundMe scam, he has added to the pain of a grieving family for personal gain – and that’s bad enough. But he has also made generous people pay a price for their generosity. How many of them will remember that betrayal next time they feel the urge to help somebody but decide not to give? That’s the darker crime.

A life lived in service to others is an exemplary existence, it’s true – and that fact doesn’t change when charitable instincts are exploited. So help at every opportunity and give when you can. But when it comes to crowdfunding sites, give wisely and cautiously.

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