Nova Scotia

Fake N.S. shooting fundraiser leads to warning from RCMP

The mass murder in Nova Scotia is a tragedy ripe for exploitation, according to a federal fraud investigator.

When it comes to donating after tragedies, experts say check before you click

Police block the highway in Debert, N.S., around 35 kilometres from West Wenworth, on Sunday. Both were locations were police found victims of the weekend's mass shooting. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The mass murder in Nova Scotia is a tragedy ripe for exploitation, a federal fraud investigator said after the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe removed a bogus campaign page claiming to be a fundraiser for two orphaned boys.

A Nova Scotia woman posted to social media what she thought was a legitimate GoFundMe campaign by a member of the family of Greg and Jamie Blair. The couple was among at least 22 people killed in a weekend rampage through rural communities in northern Nova Scotia in what is one of Canada's deadliest mass shootings.

The would-be donor contacted the RCMP after she learned the campaign was not related to the Blair family. GoFundMe confirmed the campaign has since been removed. There is another legitimate campaign for the couple's 10- and 12-year-old sons. 

Jeff Thomson, senior RCMP intelligence analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, told CBC News that fraudsters use texts, social media and crowdsourcing sites to exploit the generosity of Canadians.

"We certainly know when there are different tragedies or natural disasters the fraudsters are really quick to start up fake charities or donation campaigns," he said.

GoFundMe removed a bogus page claiming to be a fundraiser for the family of Greg and Jamie Blair, a couple that was killed in the Nova Scotia massacre. (Facebook)

A wrongdoer pounced following the Humboldt, Saskatchewan, bus crash in 2018 that killed 16 members of the Broncos junior hockey team. Andrij Olesiuk of Saskatoon was subsequently found guilty of defrauding people who gave approximately $3,800 to a GoFundMe account that he set up after the crash.

GoFundMe said it has a dedicated team that reviews all campaigns related to the Nova Scotia massacre.

"GoFundMe immediately begins monitoring the platform 24/7 for all new GoFundMe campaigns created to help the victims, families and the community," said spokesperson Caitlin Stanley.

She added it's common to see multiple GoFundMe campaigns created following such tragedies because people have a deep urge to provide help.

Canadians being generous

As of Tuesday there were at least 13 verified GoFundMe campaigns related to the Nova Scotia murders, many created by family members or friends of the victims. 

A page created by the sister of victim Jolene Oliver has so far raised more than $59,000 of its $75,000 goal. Oliver was killed along with her husband Aaron Tuck and their 17-year-old daughter, Jolene Emily Tuck.

Another campaign for the family of victim Joey Webber, who left behind a partner and three girls, more than quadrupled its $10,000 fundraising goal.

Don't give on impulse, prof warns

Thompson, with the RCMP's Anti-Fraud Centre, warned Canadians to be careful about donating to charity.

"It's really about doing due diligence and confirming everything and not just going to random sites that are collecting funds," Thomson said. "You really want to confirm where the money is going."

Experts say it's not a good idea to donate impulsively following a tragedy. They recommend checking before clicking. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

He added GoFundMe does have "a pretty robust and strong policy when it comes to fraud," but that users should nonetheless ask questions.

Dr. John Cameron, who researches charities as an international development professor at Dalhousie University, said people want to help during a crisis and "sometimes that reaction is too fast."

"I don't want to be critical of people who want to help, but it is in the immediate aftermath that heartstrings can be pulled and they're most likely to be generous," Cameron said. 

He added families will continue to have needs long after a tragedy, so it won't likely make a difference whether people donate immediately or a little later.

"If you're at all concerned about being scammed, take the time to slow down, be diligent and do research," Cameron said. 

Knowing the person behind the campaign and their connection to the tragedy can also provide a level of accountability, both Thomson and Cameron said.

Calgary officer gives back

Calgary police officer Arthur Rekshta, who moved to Canada in 2012 and is married with three boys, said he set up a GoFundMe page for Nova Scotia victims' families because "this tragedy really hit me hard."

He added police across the country are all "brothers and sisters, and we're trying to help each other."

Calgary police officer Arthur Rekshta is one of several people who launched GoFundMe campaigns following the Nova Scotia killings. (Arthur Rekshta)

Rekshta said he has been contacted by people questioning him about the campaign, which has been verified by GoFundMe and which has raised just over $400. He said if the amount remains small, he will research other ways to donate it to families or to give it to a community organization in Nova Scotia.

Stanley, the GoFundMe spokesperson, said the company has safeguards against fraud.

"Funds cannot be withdrawn until campaign organizers identify who they are, who they are raising funds for, their relationship to the beneficiary and how the funds will be used," she said.

Stanley added the organization has the first and only online funding guarantee "which means funds are guaranteed to go to the right place or donors will get a refund."

If you are seeking mental health support during this time, here are resources available to Nova Scotians.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca

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