Want to Help the Victims of the Florida School Shooting? Use these Tips to Avoid Scams

In light of the recent deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 17 dead, many of us are looking for ways to help the victims and their families. For those who want to donate money, it is important to be cautious of con artists taking advantage of the tragedy to rip off those who want to help victims.

Bobby Whithorne, director of North America Communications for GoFundMe said that the company has “removed campaigns with no direct, personal connection to the victims or the families,” and that it is “reviewing every campaign created related to the shooting in Florida and monitoring the platform for all campaigns set up to support individuals and families impacted.” GoFundMe also “guarantees the money raised by those campaigns will be transferred to the right person,” added Whithorne.

“This kind of vetting of each and every campaign takes a lot of resources and it’s a huge win for the donor that GoFundMe is willing to do that,” Michael Lai, consumer protection expert, CEO and founder of Sitejabber, an online review platform, says.

Fortunately, there’s an official fund (which has raised over $1.5M so far) that’s backed by a genuine non-profit, the Broward Education Foundation. But if you do not personally know the beneficiary of a GoFundMe campaign, Sitejabber CEO and co-founder Michael Lai provided the following tips to NBCNews:

1. Research the campaign manager

“Short of actually knowing the campaign manager or a person who can vouch for them, the best thing to do is research them online,” says Lai. “Check out their online profiles on Facebook or LinkedIn just to verify that they’re a real person with history.” Online profiles can contain useful details about an individual’s work history, acquaintances, and charitable affiliations that can help provide credibility around their role as a campaign manager.

2. Get in touch with the fund organizer

Most scammers are very difficult to get in touch with. If you are able to contact the fund organizer, you can find out more about who they are and why they set up the fund. “Ask a lot of questions and if any red flags are raised or if something doesn’t sound right, take those concerns seriously,” says Lai. Report your suspicions directly to GoFundMe and the Florida Attorney General.

3. Use a credit card or PayPal when making a donation

If you’re ready to make a donation, Lai stresses the importance of using a credit card or PayPal as they have their own protection policies in place. Also, GoFundMe offers to refund donors up to $1000 if they have been scammed, so be sure not to go over that amount if you aren’t certain that the fundraiser is legitimate.

Sending cash isn’t the only way to offer help. If you’re near Parkland, FL you can donate blood to help one of the victims being treated at Broward County hospitals. OneBlood, a Florida blood donation center, has sent out a request for donors. And if you’re concerned about mental health and gun violence, you should contact your elected officials to let them know.