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GoFundMe or GoFraudMe? How to make sure your donations are going to the right place

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Since 2010, GoFundMe says it’s helped people raise billions of dollars for all kinds of causes. Users have raised money to pay off school lunch bills, cover hospital bills for loved ones, and sometimes even to line their own pockets.

When you donate to a charity there are supposed to be protections for your donations. There are audits, financial reports, and even board oversight. However, that’s not always the case with GoFundMe campaigns.

If you’re not careful, you could be donating to a lie.

“It’s let me fund dolls that I couldn’t pay for otherwise,” said Amy Jandrisevits, from A Doll Like Me.

Amy Jandrisevits from New Berlin, creates dolls for children who would never see themselves on store shelves. Her original fundraising goal was $2500, but by using GoFundMe over four years, she’s been able to raise more than $180,000 dollars and make hundreds of dolls.

“I am incredibly grateful to GoFundMe because it has given me a platform to raise money and reach people that I never could have reached otherwise,” Jandrisevits said.

People all over the world donate to causes they connect with, like a 2-year-old with cancer from Wautoma. Twenty-seven-year-old Emily Faber told everyone she knew her daughter was sick.The community opened their wallets to donate to a GoFundMe set up for her.

“People’s hearts just poured out,” said Ted Korolewski, a donor and family friend. “And the results were quarters, and dimes, and dollars.”

The donations flowed in. Local businesses stepped up too, opening up a bank account, and hosting special events. Shawnie Schudt ordered bracelets and sold them to raise even more.

“Little girl has cancer, here you go, this is what I have, this is what I can donate,” said Schudt.

They raised $8,246 dollars for Faber’s sick child.

Faber then revealed it was all a lie.

“It’s the cruelest of cruel things,” said Korolewski. “Just unforgivable.”

The case shocked the close-knit community. Faber was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to pay it all back. She declined to talk to CBS 58 Investigates, but the district attorney said this case breeds distrust.

“Hopefully it’s not a situation where it discourages people from doing this type of good deed in the future,” said Steven Anderson, the Waushara County District Attorney.

It’s not a new story for GoFundMe. A couple raising money to help a homeless good Samaritan turned out to be a get rich quick scheme. Another person raised nearly $46,000 for a child they claimed stood up to bullies.

GoFundMe says misuse makes up only a tiny fraction of all donations.

“So trust is paramount and it’s the number one thing we focus on on a day in, day out basis,” said GoFundMe’s CEO, Rob Solomon.

GoFundMe tells CBS 58 Investigates, it heavily vets campaign pages and it guarantees refunds when fraud is detected.

“We’re proactively and re-actively monitoring things,” said Solomon. “We have machine learning and artificial intelligence, a lot of software that helps us figure out what’s going on on the platform.”

Its own terms and conditions acknowledge they can't always certify what fundraisers say is true.

“The platform is here to help people, and it’s important that we have the trust of the community and that’s what drives everything,” said Solomon.

In the end, donors are still taking a leap of faith when giving their hard earned time and money.

For the people of Wautoma, the Faber case is a violation of trust they hope they can move beyond.

“Crimes come, and crimes go,” said Korolewski. “But if it changes the generosity or the attitude of the people, would be the worst of all things.”

There are a few easy things you can do to make sure your money is going where it needs to through GoFundMe.

  • Is the person who set it up related to the person who’s going to get the money?
  • What is the campaign for and what will the money be used for?
  • Is there a clear way for the money to reach the recipient?
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