Calgary

Be wary when donating online after tragedies, says Better Business Bureau

As Canadians continue an outpouring of financial support in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, the Better Business Bureau is cautioning people to take care when donating money online.

A legitimate fundraising effort has raised more than $8M, but there are nefarious efforts out there too

A makeshift memorial is pictured at the site of the fatal Humboldt Broncos bus crash near Tisdale, Sask. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

As Canadians continue what's been described as an unprecedented outpouring of financial support in the wake of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, the Better Business Bureau is cautioning people to be cautious when donating money online.

A legitimate GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $8 million and counting for the victims of the crash that claimed 16 lives and left 13 injured, which company CEO Rob Solomon called "unprecedented" and said is one of the largest-ever Canadian fundraising campaign seen by the crowdfunding website.

But Leah Brownridge of the BBB warns scam artists are also out there and Canadians should be cautious about handing over money, especially if they don't know exactly where it's going or what it's intended for.

"It's so tragic in nature that a lot of people are very quick and eager to donate and help whenever they can," she said.

"We are seeing some concerns pop up with online donating sites. Those are different than actual registered charities. Charities must be registered with the Canada Revenue Agency. Online donation sites may be perfectly legitimate platforms, but the individuals behind those pages may not be who they say they are and that's where the risk and opportunity exists."

Brownridge says at least one GoFundMe page had been set up fraudulently by someone who was not affiliated with the team or connected to the crash.

"There was no intention to donate that money to those who needed it," she said. "The page raised only about $1,300 and it has since been taken down."

Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Leah Brownridge says Canadians should make sure they're giving to a legitimate source when donating money online. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Brownridge says people should take the time to check to see who else has donated to a campaign before making their own contribution, and to make sure it is a secure website.

"Look at the URL address, make sure it's a secure website," she said. "If it begins with HTTPS, that S stands for secure, you can enter your financial and credit card information safely. And if it has the padlock icon at the beginning of that HTTPS, that's another indication it's a secure website."

Solomon earlier told CBC Calgary News at 6 that the company works with fundraising efforts to ensure the money is distributed fairly to the people donors intended.

"We work upfront with the campaign organizer, we then try before any funds are released [to] get a plan from the organizer as to how the funds are going to be dispersed," he said.

The Humboldt Broncos. (Humboldt Broncos website)

Someone raising money illegitimately while claiming to be part of an actual organization could be charged with fraud, said Brownridge.

"Spoofing an organization, that is of a criminal nature. However, if it is just someone who's operating a webpage on their own, not really under a business name, that's when the police would have to get involved and determine if it is criminal in nature or not."

A representative from GoFundMe said the company has a dedicated team that is monitoring all campaigns to ensure funds reach the intended families and victims.

The company said if any questions arise about a campaign's veracity, GoFundMe holds the funds until the beneficiary has been verified. The platform is also backed by a guarantee that if it's found campaigns have been misused, donors will be refunded.

With files from Dave Gilson

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