Donations for Ottawa homicide victim never handed over, family says

The father of an Ottawa man killed in a violent robbery in Toronto says his family hasn't seen a cent of the $3,550 raised through an online crowdfunding campaign, nearly six months after the 25-year-old's death.

Ottawa police investigating as GoFundMe works to track down missing money

Zaher "Zack" Noureddine was killed outside a restaurant on Yonge Street in Toronto shortly after midnight on Dec. 30, 2015. (Facebook)

The father of an Ottawa man who was killed in a violent robbery in Toronto in December says money raised in his son's name through an online crowdfunding campaign has not been handed over to his family, and is calling on GoFundMe to change its policies.

Hassan Noureddine told CBC News the "Zack Noureddine Fund" was created in the days following the 25-year-old's death by a man living in Los Angeles, Calif., for whom his son had once worked.

The online campaign, which raised $3,800 before it was removed, was accompanied by a written description stating the money would go toward Zack's funeral costs, according to Noureddine. 

Noureddine said San Diego-based GoFundMe told him they paid the campaign creator $3,550 on Feb. 17 — the company deducts a five per cent fee from each donation — but Noureddine said the Los Angeles man has not given him any of that money. 

Ottawa Police, GoFundMe investigating

Ottawa police confirmed they are investigating, but no charges have been laid and police declined to comment further.

In a statement, GoFundMe said: "The funds were withdrawn, but unfortunately they were not delivered to Hassan. We are working with Hassan to ensure he receives the funds raised on his behalf."

Hassan and Magda Noureddine say they're still struggling to cope with the loss of their son, Zaher [Zack] Noureddine. (CBC)

"It's the lowest thing in life. Nothing lower than this," Noureddine said. "This guy, he can take advantage of someone who passed away to raise money on him. That's very low."

Noureddine said the man claimed he sent a cheque in the mail, and also sent him "fake" money transfers with pin numbers that didn't work.

He's now calling on GoFundMe to change its policies to prevent this from happening to other families.

"The money should be sent to the beneficiary, not to the person who opened the account," Hassan said. "It is very clear. Why [did] they send it to the account owner, if he's not the beneficiary?"

Crowdfunding like writing 'a blank cheque'

With online crowdfunding, there are "no assurances that the money will go to the people who are supposed to receive it," according to Marc Tassé, a fraud expert at the University of Ottawa.

Fraud expert Marc Tassé says donating to online crowdfunding campaigns is like writing 'a blank cheque' with no guarantees for how the money is spent. (CBC)

Tassé said it's possible there has been a misunderstanding in this case, since no charges have been laid.

But in general, Tassé said online campaign creators have "no legal obligation" to spend money the way donors want. 

"So it's almost like giving them a blank cheque and hoping that they will do whatever you want."

Tassé said fraudsters "play on your emotions," especially in cases when people donate after a tragedy.

He recommends would-be donors adopt a "trust but verify" policy by getting in touch with the campaign creator and performing a quick Google search of his or her name. 

Little comfort

But for now, that's little comfort to Zack Noureddine's family and friends.

"[Zack's] friends ... could not take it. And they donated their money and didn't want to see that someone did not treat Zack well ... and now he's taking advantage of him after his death."

Hassan Noureddine said police told him it could take up to eight months for the case to be assigned to an investigator. He has created a foundation in his son's name and said if he ever receives the crowdfunding money it will be donated to the fund. 

Attempts by CBC News to reach the California resident identified by both Hassan Noureddine and GoFundMe as the campaign organizer were not successful.

Statement to CBC News from GoFundMe

"It's important to understand that fraudulent campaigns make up less than one tenth of one percent of all GoFundMe campaigns. We have a thorough verification process, deploy proprietary technical tools, and a dedicated team that works around the clock to monitor fraudulent behavior. In addition to technical tools and a dedicated risk team, we have a community of 25 million users – when they see something they think might not be right, they tell us, and our team immediately looks into it. In this case, Hassan gave [the campaign organizer] permission to control the funds. The funds were withdrawn, but unfortunately they were not delivered to Hassan. We are working with Hassan to ensure he receives the funds raised on his behalf. In general, we currently have mechanisms in place to verify the identity of the individual if a campaign is started on their behalf and securely transfer control of the funds to them."