(NEW YORK) — After a gunman killed seven people and wounded dozens more at an Independence Day parade outside Chicago on Monday, thousands turned to the online platform GoFundMe to donate money to the victims — the latest example of the public gathering online to fundraise after a tragedy.
While websites like GoFundMe have made such philanthropy increasingly easy, there can be risks.
Highland Park, Illinois, Mayor Nancy Rotering warned the community about potential fundraising scams in a Tuesday morning news conference. By then GoFundMe had already established a specialized hub with links to fundraisers it said it had verified.
Donors had raised millions across 11 different pages as of Wednesday, the website showed. Comments poured in offering well-wishes; some hoped for more gun reform. At least one donor said they were sending care from as far away as Australia.
“As a parent trying to enjoy the little things in life with my own kids, I am deeply saddened that this is where we are now in our world, having to fear a street parade. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of you,” said a comment from a user named Joanna Castello.
One fund will support the family of a couple killed in the shooting. Irina and Kevin McCarthy’s 2-year-old son, Aiden, was found alone in the aftermath. He was later reunited with his grandparents, according to a Highland Park city manager.
As of Thursday morning, the fundraiser for the slain couple had drawn almost $3 million, more than six times its initial goal of $500,000 — with more than 50,000 individual donations.
Many donors directly addressed the couple’s orphaned son in their messages.
One GoFundMe donor identified as Lauren Cohen wrote: “Aiden, I am so sorry for your unimaginable and tragic loss. We are all looking out for you and are heartbroken for you, your family and all of the victims of this tragedy. Sending love.”
The parade shooting “hub” is not the first instance when GoFundMe has been used in the wake of a mass shooting.
Following the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school massacre in May and disasters including West Coast wildfires and the 2021 Surfside Condo collapse in Florida, GoFundMe has continued to establish so-called “crisis hubs,” according to a Medium post the company shared last year.
When news reports of a crisis arise, GoFundMe said it directs a team that monitors related fundraisers, according to the post. The company works with newsrooms, government officials and law enforcement during the verification process.
Some funds are held by the platform until payment information is confirmed — even if the fundraiser is verified, the Medium post shows.
GoFundMe does not always deem unverified fundraisers fraudulent. They can still accumulate donations, according to the post. But organizers cannot withdraw funds from pages that have not been vetted.
A GoFundMe spokesperson told ABC News Wednesday that the platform requires details such as government ID, banking information and addresses when verifying pages. GoFundMe guarantees a full donation refund in cases of fraud, the spokesperson said.
Donors can also directly report pages to GoFundMe for investigation and contact organizers with questions on the site if they want to know more before donating, the spokesperson said.
Kevin Scally, chief relationship officer for the nonprofit evaluator Charity Navigator, told ABC News that fraudulent activity often takes place outside platforms like GoFundMe. Scally said scammers are more likely to target people through look-alike fake webpages and direct, personal appeals.
Scally said GoFundMe has made great strides in fraud protection, citing the policy of validating users before allowing them to withdraw funds. Still, he urged prospective donors to do their research.
“It’s typically best to do some due diligence and make sure that, if you are supporting an organization or you’re supporting a personal fundraiser, you’re doing that through a verified, valid means,” he said.
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