You’ve probably heard of the site, where all sorts of stories are posted of people seeking donations. Some are tragic, others are trite. You may be touched by a particular story, perhaps one in which an entire family is killed in a house fire.

9DYou click the “Donate Now” button and donate $50. So just how do you know that family who died in the fire really existed? and similar sites are loaded with “campaigns,” just tons of them. Think of the logistics involved if these sites hired people to verify every campaign. This would require enormous amounts of time and a lot of people and expense.

People don’t think. They just assume every campaign is for real. Do you realize how easy it is to start a campaign?, for instance, only requires that you have a Facebook account with a valid-looking profile picture of the campaign starter, and at least 10 Facebook friends (last I checked, anyways).

  • Who at and similar sites verifies that the profile picture is that of the campaign starter?
  • Who at these sites verifies that the “friends” are legitimate, vs. all phony accounts or “friends” purchased from seedy overseas companies that create fake profiles?
  • Even if the avatar and friends are for real, how do these crowdfunding sites confirm the authenticity of the campaigns?

It’s all based on the honor system. You take their word for it, though some campaigns are high profile cases. People have given money to fake campaigns. How can you prevent getting conned?

  • Check the news to see if the campaign story really happened. But a house fire in a small town doesn’t always hit the Internet. Nor is it newsworthy that some housewife is trying to raise money to buy her disabled son a set of golf clubs. So stay with campaign stories that you know have occurred.
  • But again, a scammer could take a real story, pretend to know a victim and scam donators. So see if there’s a legitimate pathway to donate to the real people involved in the story, such as through their local police department.
  • Stick to reputable charity sites. Offline, never give money solicited over the phone.
  • Be leery of charity solicitations for very high profile cases, as these attract scammers.
  • If donations are solicited by snail mail, check the Better Business Bureau. Any scammer could create a legitimate sounding name: “American Association for Autistic Children.”

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to discussing identity theft prevention.

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