Ottawa

Watch out for fake tornado relief fundraising campaigns

Natural disasters can be golden opportunities for online scammers, and the tornadoes that struck the National Capital Region last week are no exception.

'Any kind of chaotic situation, the scammers kind of come out of the woodwork and try to take advantage'

A man and woman embrace as they survey damage at a home in Gatineau, Que., after a tornado tore through the area on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Natural disasters can be golden opportunities for online scammers, and the tornadoes that struck the National Capital Region last week are no exception.

As residents try to get back up on their feet, dozens of fundraising campaigns have sprung up, some providing only scant information about who's getting the money.

Adrienne Gonzalez, who tracks and investigates charity scams for a website called GoFraudMe, said fraudulent campaigns after major events "pop up pretty regularly."

"Any kind of chaotic situation, the scammers kind of come out of the woodwork and try to take advantage," she told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

Dozens of online charity campaigns sprung up just hours after two tornadoes hit the Ottawa-Gatineau area Friday and experts are warning residents to beware of scams. 3:25

'They can say they're anybody'

Gonzalez had a quick look through some of the campaigns that have sprung up since the tornadoes in Ottawa, Gatineau and Calabogie, and found a suspicious one trying to raise $50,000, set up by someone claiming to be from Ottawa.

"He just said, ' Let's rebuild,' and that was about it. So I would avoid anything that doesn't have any kind of real plan for where the money is going," she said.

"It's important to keep in mind that when somebody opens up a campaign, they can say they're anybody, they can claim any kind of story, and GoFundMe says in their terms and conditions that they do not verify campaigns."

Tornado campaigns being verified, GoFundMe says

In an emailed statement, GoFundMe said it has created a team to monitor campaigns related to the tornadoes in the region.

"The safety of our giving community is our top priority and I can confirm that there has been no misuse on GoFundMe as related to the Ottawa tornadoes," spokesperson Rachel Hollis wrote in an emailed statement.

"GoFundMe is monitoring campaigns created for those impacted by the Ottawa tornadoes and we guarantee all money goes to the right place."

GoFundMe has created a specific page with verified campaigns related to the tornadoes. It can be found here.

Tips for online donating

  • Any individual or family who's the subject of a GoFundMe campaign should be named, Gonzalez said.
  • Ideally, the person or family should also be listed as the beneficiary of the campaign, which you can find on the right-hand side of the campaign page. When the feature is enabled, it ensures that only the beneficiaries can touch the money — not the person who started the campaign.
  • Any photos used on the campaign page should be run through a Google image search to see whether it's appeared online before. Sometimes people grab photos from unrelated stories to give an air of authenticity.
  • If a donor has a question or wants to know more about a campaign before they donate, they can reach out to the GoFundMe team or the campaign organizer directly through the GoFundMe page by clicking the envelope next to the campaign organizer's name.
  • If you don't hear back or the response raises questions, report the campaign directly to GoFundMe by clicking "Report Campaign" on the campaign page.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning

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