Due Diligence

“There’s a sucker born every minute.” – David Hannum (often attributed to PT Barnum)

I believe that charities are a really good way to help people the world over. My wife and I donate as much as we can to charities because we’re not in a position to volunteer our time in, say, Africa. In the United States, donations to accredited charities are tax-deductible, meaning that whatever money we donate gets taken off our taxable income and could lead to a lower tax bill at the end of the year. However, we don’t donate to just any charity. We take our time and investigate charities to make sure that our money is being put to work in the right places and with the right people.

For example, we donate a lot to Doctors Without Borders. That organization is tried and true. They even collectively received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. They have a proven track record of delivering as much help as possible for the money that they receive, so we trust them.

We also donate to other similar organizations that have been vetted by watchdog organizations and by ourselves. That is, we practice due diligence in how we spread out money around to charities. After all, we work hard for our money and want it to benefit as many people as possible.

Unfortunately, because of the age of crowdsourcing on the internet, there are several scammers out there trying to make a quick buck. Instead of waking up in the morning and going to work like the rest of us, they just sit around and plot ways to literally steal money from unsuspecting, kind people. I told you about such a person yesterday when I uncovered a scam to get people to donate to a non-existent child with cancer.

That person — or people — is still at it today, creating different Twitter accounts and even a webpage (HelpElleFight.com) to try and lure people to bogus Go Fund Me pages (through a redirect script) where unsuspecting people can donate. Today, they’re pretending to be a woman named “Charity” who has diabetes and other things:

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 12.59.50 PM
This page has been removed.

 

The WhoIs information for HelpElleFight.com says that a person named “Savanna Brook” in Mississippi registered that domain, but I’m skeptical that it’s legit. This whole thing stinks to high heaven.

So what do you do when you see something on a crowdfunding web page and you want to help out?

First, be very, very skeptical. This is not a bad thing to do. It’s your money. You worked hard for it, and you want it to do the most good. Resist the urge to immediately donate money to a cause that tugs at your heartstrings. After all, nothing is fixed overnight. There are plenty of relief organizations to take care of true emergencies (like disasters or homes burning down). So take your time to investigate further.

Next, is the person a real person? One of the commenters on the page from yesterday mentioned that the picture on the page was from an advertisement for a haircut place. They probably used Google images to check and make sure the person on the picture was a real person, like this:

You can also check the story that comes with the crowdfunding request and check it against news items. Often, local media will pick up on these stories and run them. Any media worth their salt will check the story.

So let’s check out this story of Matt and Victor:

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 1.19.18 PMSo far so good. Their picture from the site is not coming up on other sites. It is very likely that this is in fact their picture.

Next, let’s look at their narrative:

“On January 10th, 2015 our wonderful friends, Victor and Matt, lost their beautiful home and their beloved dog, Piper, in a fire. With this Gofundme, we are hoping to raise (at least) $25,000 to help them through the long journey to rebuild some of what they lost.

For those of you who don’t know, Victor and Matt closed on their Babylon Village home only this past August. Since then, they put in countless hours of hardwork to transform that house into a home fit for a magazine. They moved in this past October. The personal effort they put into handcrafting their home make this loss even more heartbreaking.

However the greatest loss of all was of their beautiful dog, Piper. Piper, a loving and sweet Golden Doodle, was rescued by Victor and Matt, and since then the love she brought to their lives was evident. She was present at their wedding and during the most important moments of their lives together, and the loss of her is easily the hardest part of it all.

Victor and Matt are two of the loveliest, funniest, and thoughtful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. They selflessly help others, and bring life and laughter to every room they enter. Now it’s our turn to help them, and give back some of the love they’ve given to us.

Please help rebuild their lives. Any donation amount would be incredibly appreciated.

On behalf of Victor and Matt, thank you.”

So we know that they lost their home on January 10th of this year, and that the house was in Babylon Village, NY. A quick Google search reveals this story from Patch.com which checks out the story AND it checks out the crowdfunding plan:

“The Babylon community is rallying for Matt Vitale and Victor Cardinali, local residents whose home was destroyed by a fire on Saturday.

A GoFundMe online fundraiser has raised more than $2,250 so far toward a $10,000 goal to help the pair recover.”

Of course, it is very possible that the Patch.com reporter just saw the Go Fund Me page and went with it, so let’s do a little more digging.

I found this video from the Babylon Village Fire Department showing the response to the fire. Included in the description of the fire is the mention of the dog:

“At 15:15 hours on January 10, 2015, Babylon Central Fire Rescue Alarm alerted the Babylon Fire Department to respond to a reported house fire at 31 Strong Ave. Upon arrival of Babylon Chief 1-2-31 a R.I.T. team was requested from the North Babylon Fire Company. 2 lines were stretched off the first due engine 1-2-6, the fire was quickly knocked down shortly after. 2 dogs were removed from the house by firefighters, one dog sadly passed away. There were no other reported injuries.”

Very sad, indeed.

Finally, if you really want to make sure that your money helps people like Matt and Victor, I would suggest donating to the American Red Cross, a tried and true organization that helps people in disasters big and small. Your donation to ARC is tax deductible and there are plenty of watchdogs looking out to make sure they spend their money wisely. If you still want to donate directly to Matt and Victor, there is an option to contact the organizer of the fundraiser. Ask pertinent questions such as, “Why so much money?” and, “How can I make sure they get the money?”

There are plenty of crooks and liars out there in the world, and there are enough “suckers” to keep them fat and happy and doing the bad things that they do. Fortunately for all of us, there are more good people than bad. There are plenty of people and organizations available to make sure that whatever money, goods, or time that you donate make it to the people who need it most. You must practice due diligence and make sure that you’re giving your money to a good cause and through a verifiable fundraising organization.

 

I'm a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

One thought on “Due Diligence

  1. Very good advice, Ren. Another resource that might help people figure out if something like this is legit is the tax assessor’s database for wherever the home is located. Those databases generally list information on who the owners are, sales history, etc. Simply address searches can also help. Some police and fire departments also have Twitter feeds where there may be more information about their responses to an emergency.

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