Donor (and parents) Beware!

Knowing your children and grandchildren have hearts for giving and service is a great feeling. OneOldCop is blessed with children and grandchildren falling into that category. From volunteering at church and community organizations to involvement with raising funds for various causes, my family does its best to make a difference. The problem, if there is a problem with their efforts, is a tendency to be a bit impulsive at times. For example, the first thing popping up on social media the other day was a fundraising post from a grandson.

That was nothing new in some ways. Requests for funds for church camp, cheerleading, football programs, or other causes show up regularly in one form or another. This one, however, was seeking to raise money to help with medical bills, and the goal was in the upper five-figure range. Additionally, the story in the post read as if it was written by someone a bit older than sixteen. My fraud radar went off immediately, hack job?

The good news is no one hacked my grandson’s social media or email account. He set up the fundraiser, and he posted the information for a friend who was badly hurt in an automobile accident. The bad news is no one hacked his account, and he set up the account, without anyone’s knowledge, permission, or assistance. The worse news is, the fundraising or “crowdfunding” site makes no attempt to verify the age of the “organizer” setting up the account. This, in spite of their minimum age requirement for setting up and withdrawing funds, which my grandson did not meet. When queried about this discrepancy, the agent for the site advised they would verify age before allowing funds to be distributed.

Some of you are probably scratching your heads about now wondering what’s the problem. That was the response of the organization when I first chatted with them about the matter. They thought waiting until funds were raised before enforcing their rules was just fine, and what difference did it make. So, I told them.

First, fraud is rampant on social media. Anyone dealing with fundraising needs to make sure there are safeguards in place. Here, the protection was the money would not be distributed or withdrawn without some verification of the person making the withdrawal meeting their criteria. So, in this case, my grandson might have raised an amount approaching or exceeding $10,000 before being told he could not withdraw the funds. This seemed wrong in at least two ways. It could interfere with the timely distribution of the funds, and it could open the door to fraud.

If you’re thinking fraud is not likely in a case like this, you have not been paying attention to the cases of abuse involving crowdfunding. People have raised tens of thousands of dollars fraudulently through well-known crowdfunding operations. The most egregious, financially, incident of which I am aware involved a trio of miscreants in New Jersey.

A young couple and a homeless guy concocted a story designed to raise a few bucks to reward the homeless fellow for spending his last $20.00 to help the young woman out of a jam. The response was unbelievable! They raised $400,000 to “lift the homeless fellow out of poverty.” It was a scam, and all three were charged with crimes.

Other stories of this nature abound. In some cases, people claim they or family members have severe conditions, such as cancer. In reality, they are looking for easy money from soft-hearted people on social media. Others are set up to raise money in the name of legitimate needs, but the money goes in the pocket of the organizer.

Yes, those things will happen with any fundraising effort. People will misuse money, lie about why they need money, and outright steal if it comes down to it. Yet the incident the other day added a new element to the equation.

What would stop an enterprising person from setting up someone such as my grandson?  He is a trusting young man and selling him a bill of goods might be easy. He also has a bit of a problem with asking for permission, learning somewhere along the way asking for forgiveness might be easier

While the account being discussed here appears legitimate, the campaign was set up without parental knowledge. Luckily, between his parents and his nosey granddad, it did not take long for the situation to come to light. Still, what if no one noticed? If the campaign went unnoticed by family and was successful, the situation could become more problematic.

A minor child, legally speaking, would have raised a significant amount of money, either on his own initiative or at the request of a third party. That in and of itself would not be a horrible problem. What happens next could be.

First, why did he raise the money without telling his parents? Here, I cannot see my grandson intentionally hiding it from his folks, but he might not think it was necessary. Or, he might wait to see if the effort was successful, so he could surprise them.

On the other hand, I can see him withholding the information because he was asked to keep it quiet for some reason. In this case for instance, it seems the information used in the campaign came from the injured friend’s sister. If she asked him to keep it quiet, for whatever reason, he probably would have agreed. What if she was being less than honest about the reason for raising the funds?

Again, this is a hypothetical, but clearly possible situation. Money has been raised in the name of helping a severely injured teen. The campaign organizer, a minor child, contacts the crowdfunding group to withdraw the money, and their response is, “Sorry.” They inform him he needs to appoint an adult beneficiary to withdraw the money.

Hopefully, he would head straight to his mom or dad and tell them what was going on. However, that is not often the way an independent teen thinks. So, instead of his folks, he tells the sister the problem, and she or an older family member or friend says, “Hey! Just put it in my name.” Hopefully, again, that would solve the problem, but what if the money just doesn’t make it to the doctor bills or whatever? Who will be on the hook if the thing turns out to be a scam of some sort?

In the case of the homeless guy and the gambling addicts, the crowdfunding company, if I remember correctly, reimbursed disgruntled donors. That was either a good deed on their part, a wise advertising move, or they listened to their attorneys. What if they had not stepped up?

I will not dig into the muck of what might or might not happen legally in a situation where a minor is tricked or coerced into setting up a fund.   That would depend on the circumstances, the courts, the jurisdictions, and the people involved. Yet, it should be clear someone might have liability here. For instance, it might be hard for the organizer’s family members to avoid legal problems.

Legal ramifications aside, my grandson and his parents would feel responsible to some degree. He would feel used and betrayed. They would be disappointed and might feel a moral obligation to repay people out of their own pocket. If the story got out, as it certainly would, the young man would face ridicule and embarrassment that could scar him for life.

Hopefully the preceding makes it clear this is a potentially damaging situation. The crowdfunding source in question here seems open to changing the age verification policy. One hopes, they will find a way to prevent a minor setting up an account without a sponsor or associate of majority age. Still, there are dozens, if not more, of these organizations operating today.

My guess is most of them have not addressed this issue any more clearly than the one inspiring these comments. Before anyone uses or donates to one of these services, some investigation might be appropriate. This would be especially true in a case such as the one triggering this piece.

A minor organizing one of these efforts under parental supervision is one thing. A child undertaking an initiative of this sort without parental supervision Is a horse of a different color.  The kid’s family may be at risk financially, friends and acquaintances donating to the fund may find they have little recourse in the case of fraud, and the entire system of crowdfunding takes another hit that was avoidable.


About S. Eric Jackson

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