Editorial: Make any online donation with your head, not heart

A GoFundMe page titled “Mother diagnosed with cancer is in desperate need,” is under investigation by the Shirley Police Department.
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Scammers love to prey on individuals’ giving natures, especially at this time of year.

These predators have used various methods to separate well-meaning people from their money, including purporting to be authority figures calling on the behalf of a relative supposedly in trouble with the law.

The internet offers myriad shady opportunities, like the Shirley Police Department’s ongoing probe into three potentially bogus online schemes.

Police Chief Samuel Santiago confirmed last week the department’s investigation into three fundraising pages on the GoFundMe website.

Michelle Westberry, a Shirley resident who police said is allegedly involved in the probe, said she’s cooperating with the investigation, but offered no further comment.

The first page in question is titled “Family that all had Covid19 needs holiday help,” which was created on Nov. 26 by a Michelle Bomil. Though the page no longer accepts donations, it did raise $700.

The second page, titled “Mother diagnosed with cancer is in desperate need,” was organized by a Kelley Linkus on Dec. 7. That page says that Linkus, diagnosed with breast cancer, needs to pay a percentage of her medical treatment. The page seeks to raise $1,500.

Another GoFundMe page established on the same day by a woman named Kelley Linkis — not Linkus — includes the same heading: “Mother diagnosed with cancer is in desperate need.”

A woman named Michelle Noel, who Linkis described on the page as “a very good friend,” had been diagnosed with cervical cancer in October 2018. This page also had a fundraising goal of $1,500. As of Dec. 20, the page can no longer be found on the GoFundMe website.

According to the newspaper, Madison Jones, GoFundMe’s spokesperson for the northeast region, said that the organization’s Trust & Safety team is also aware of the situation and investigating.

“Fundraisers with misuse are very rare, making up less than one tenth of 1% of fundraisers on our platform, and we take all complaints very seriously,” Jones said in part. “In the rare instance that someone does create a misleading fundraiser with the intention of taking advantage of others’ generosity, GoFundMe takes swift action to resolve the issue.”

The creator or creators of these three pages followed GoFundMe procedures by describing the situation and setting fundraising goals, followed by sharing the details with friends or a greater audience via email, text and social media.

Though rare on the GoFundMe website, the potential to be swindled still exists.

We urge potential donors to heed the experts’ advice before making an online donation.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, donors should do their due diligence before giving money to charities — especially those they don’t really know.

But uncovering details about online campaigns can be a challenging process, far more difficult than vetting established charities such as the American Red Cross or American Heart Association, explained Ashley Post, communications manager at Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that evaluates charitable organizations.

“It’s heartbreaking because a lot of people get taken advantage of,” Post said.

She advises before donors give money to online crowdfunding campaigns, find out where the campaign originated, and ask whether family or friends know or are familiar with the cause before giving money.

Scammers “make lots of vague and sentimental claims but give no specifics about how your donation will be used,” the FTC warned.

And sometimes, it just comes down to a gut check. “If it feels wrong, maybe it is,” Post said.

It’s not our intent to temper the giving spirit, but don’t let those tugs on your heartstrings cloud your better judgment.