Worst crowdfunding scams targeting vulnerable victims

After a life-changing accident, victims often turn to their community for help. Scammers have been caught taken advantage of this urge to help by creating duplicate pages or making up fake illnesses.

Accident victims and their loved ones need to be on the lookout for this sort of scam, especially if pictures of their accident or their injuries have been posted to their social media accounts or if they have appeared on the news. While there have been too many scams to list every single one, below are the most egregious examples of crowdfunding cons that have falsely claimed to raise money for injured or sick patients and their families.

GoFundMe Scams

  • A scammer set up a GoFundMe account claiming to raise money for the bereaved family of Jessica Rodriguez, who died as a result of complications from childbirth. Fallon Mouton, the sister of one of Jessica’s coworkers, posted the story of the tragedy on the crowdfunding site and managed to make off with $4,600. 
  • Javier Rodriguez has reported seeing several crowdfunding sites using the name of his daughter Brianna, who was killed in a head-on car crash in California. Javier did set up an official page on GoFundMe to help pay for funeral costs, but he saw his efforts duplicated by scammers, including one using GoFundMe to imitate the real page. 
  • 5-month-old Noah Knickerbocker was desperately in need of a heart transplant. A family friend offered to help the Knickerbockers out by setting up a GoFundMe page, and they gladly accepted the help. But their friend ended up running off with the $6,500 he raised in Noah’s name instead, claiming he donated it to charities instead of giving it to the family as promised. The charities he claimed to have donated to told reporters that they never received those donations. 
  • Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy is a real disease, but Cynthia Lynn Smith’s case was fake. She scammed family and friends out of more than $125,000 by convincingly faking symptoms of the disease, which produces progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the arms and legs. 
  • When teenager Maddi Higgins died in a car crash, her family was shocked to learn that someone had set up a GoFundMe page in her name. The “Flowers for Maddi” fundraiser raised over $2,000—but it had been set up by someone who didn’t know Maddi and didn’t even live in the same state as her. 
  • When Bree Emery lost her baby and was left with serious injuries after a car crash, an acquaintance set up a GoFundMe page that raised over $13,000. But Bree never saw any of that money—the scammer ran off with it, leaving a bereaved family with no recourse beyond filing a fraud complaint with their state’s Attorney General’s Office. 
  • After the tragic drowning death of a young boy named Austin, his grandfather Jeff West tried to set up a GoFundMe page to help with the cost of the child’s funeral. Family and friends told him that there were already multiple pages using Austin’s name and story. 
  • Teenager Luke Blanock had just learned that his cancer had returned and was terminal when someone created a GoFundMe account claiming to be raising money for him. The scammer didn’t even bother to spell his name right, but managed to raise over $1,000. 
  • Leatha Kaye Slauson tried to turn a profit using her 5-year-old daughter, Riley. On GoFundMe, Leatha claimed that her daughter had terminal colorectal cancer. Riley appeared on the news with a shaved head and a tube in one of her nostrils, but when school officials tried to ask Riley’s medical providers how to care for the cancer-stricken child, they realized that those doctors never existed. 
  • Joanna Leigh turned a tragedy to her advantage, raising almost $40,000 by claiming to be a victim of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Joanna collected money from a GoFundMe campaign, a student-run fundraiser, and the Massachusetts Victims of Violent Crime Compensation program. Investigators discovered that Joanna did attend the marathon, but wasn’t close to the explosions. 
  • When three young men drowned after their boat capsized, a woman named Retina LaValla set up a GoFundMe page. After over $27,000 was raised, Retina disappeared—and investigators realized that this wasn’t her first tangle with fraud charges. 
  • A GoFundMe account claiming to be raising money for a Fayetteville, N.C. family killed in a house fire turned out to be a scam. Someone claiming to be a relative of the family set up a page seeking donations—but the family, and their grieving relatives, never existed. 
  • While Michael Sloan was recovering after nearly drowning, a family friend noticed that Michael’s image was on a GoFundMe page—but the family didn’t recall setting anything up. It turns out that scammers had lifted a dramatic picture of Michael in the hospital and made up their own story about the child’s injuries. 
  • After Rebecca Ramnarine’s tragic death in a car accident, her parents discovered that scammers pretending to be the 9-year-old girl’s aunt and uncle had raised over $10,000 in her name. They claimed that the money was for a funeral fund. 
  • After a local newspaper published a story about a 4-month-old girl with a rare form of brain cancer, the child’s parents realized that fake accounts had been set up in her name. The scammers were thorough, using pictures stolen from the social media accounts of the girl’s mother to set up an Instagram account that made the fake pages look more legitimate. 
  • Concerned citizens noticed something fishy about an account that claimed to be set up to help with a toddler’s injuries: not only were there multiple versions of the same plea for money on GoFundMe, but one had formerly claimed to be created by “Supporters of Michael Brown,” a teenager shot to death in Ferguson. 
  • A friend of Roger Belanger started an education fund for his two children after the young father was killed in an accident. After $24,035 was donated, Roger’s family tried to get the money, but found that the scammer had made off with the so-called education fund. 
  • While 20-year-old Lexus Benton was fighting for her life in the hospital after a car crash, a scammer set up a GoFundMe page in her name. The con was elaborate, including a line of t-shirts sold on the site to raise money, but Benton’s family was left without a dime after the scammer took off
  • When Alexian Lien was recovering in the hospital after a brutal beating, a stranger approached him and promised to take care of his expenses with a GoFundMe page. Although about $2,500 was raised in his name, Lien’s lawyer noticed that his client had no connection with the person fundraising for him and suspected that the page was a scam. The scammer fired back by claiming that he wasn’t sure he could really trust Lien’s lawyer, and that he was holding the money until the lawyer could prove he was legitimate. 
  • Hali Etie was the frontwoman of a hardcore band named Counterfeit, but that wasn’t enough limelight for her. Hali started telling her friends that she had cervical cancer, and they responded by printing t-shirts, staging benefit shows, and raising over $3,000 on GoFundMe. But Hali’s cancer was a lie, and her former friends and band now refuse to associate with her after the truth was uncovered. 
  • While Rachael Farrokh’s life-threatening anorexia was all too real, some donors grew suspicious after her husband stated on a GoFundMe donation page that he was raising money to send her to a particular center, and later claimed that they would not take her. The ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders is located in Denver; Rachael’s husband claimed that her physician had said that the high altitude would pose problems for an anorexic patient, but a doctor from ACUTE told reporters that this was not true. The fundraising husband also stated that doctors from ACUTE were monitoring the situation from afar, but the doctor who spoke to reporters said that the center does not offer remote consultations. 
  • A man claiming to be an Iraq war veteran named Kevin Fish asked funders to help him raise $4,000 to visit his family in Louisiana. Kevin claimed to be suffering from inoperable bone cancer and managed to raise $1,650 within his first week. A local news station noticed that one of the pictures on his GoFundMe page was identical to a photograph published in a medical journal; Kevin claimed he had taken the photograph on his phone. He was also not able to produce any proof of his cancer. 

IndieGoGo Scams

  • When a toddler died after being crushed between two buses at a harvest festival, her grieving family realized that their legitimate GoFundMe page had been replicated by a scammer on IndieGoGo. The scammer had no connection to the family and didn’t even live in the same state. 
  • After Eric Garner’s death made international headlines, his family realized that dozens of fake fundraisers had been set up in his name. At least one of the scammers was actually a relative of Garner; one of his daughters raised over $40,000, claiming that the money would go towards supporting his children, but refused to share the income with her siblings. 
  • A scammer who said her name was Tiffany Fennery used IndieGogo and Craigslist to raise money, claiming that her brother Chris was a soldier who had lost his left arm and both his legs to an improvised explosive device. But there was no Chris Fennery in Pentagon records, and no one by that name was a patient at the hospital the fundraisers described. The scammer had taken pictures from the obituary of a man named Sgt. Sean Patrick Fennerty, who died in Iraq and never had a sister named Tiffany. 
  • Antranette Nolan tried to scam donors out of money with IndieGoGo campaigns claiming that she had a daughter with leukemia and another with a brain tumor. After investigators realized that the hospital she claimed to be visiting didn’t treat pediatric cancer patients, the scammer claimed the money had actually been raised to help her mother with breast cancer—even though an obituary showed that her mother had passed away months earlier. 

Giveforward Scams

  • While Kimani Johnson’s son was real, his plea for money wasn’t. Kimani collected $10,600 with a Giveforward campaign by claiming that his son needed heart surgery. But Kimani disappeared with the cash after his son’s mother came forward to say that her child was perfectly healthy, and that Kimani had a history of abusing her and owed her over $20,000 in unpaid child support. The man who had presented himself as a loving father had only seen his supposedly sick son three times in his life. 
  • When Kelly Johanneson reappeared after a month-long absence, she told her stunned loved ones that she had Stage IV breast cancer and had been staying in a cancer center for treatment. She managed to collect $4,400 in donations before detectives were tipped off to her scam. 
  • Meaghan Hudson accepted over $5,000 in donations for a case of multiple myeloma that turned out to be completely false. Her friends and family rushed to her aid after she told them she was sick and put up a fundraising page on Giveforward.  After her hoax was exposed, her bewildered family told reporters that they weren’t in on the scam and had genuinely believed that she was dying
  • After a horrific tragedy in Mississippi, the family of a teenager who had been burned alive set up a Facebook page called “Justice for Jessica.” Shortly afterwards, they realized that someone had set up a Giveforward page in Jessica’s name, using the information they had collected from the public Facebook page. 
  • Theresa Strub’s prior convictions for theft didn’t stop her from attempting a new scam. After she claimed that she had been diagnosed with kidney and stomach cancer, donations poured in to her Giveforward page. She also received money from a benefit dinner and a restaurant that raised thousands of dollars to help her. 
  • The family of Jamie Dumas believed that they would receive all of the money raised for their loved one’s funeral expenses when they let a woman named Hailey Kristen Anderson set up a Giveforward page for them. After more than $5,000 in donations poured in, Hailey refused to hand over the money to the grieving family. 

Fundly Scams

  • After Kelly Garner sustained injuries after falling down a ravine, someone named Jason Asselin set up an account in his name. More than $1,500 was raised, but the two had never met, and Jason had a history of creating shady fundraisers after well-publicized tragedies. Kelly’s family told reporters that Jason did contact them on Facebook with an offer to help, but that they backed off from the fundraising project when they grew suspicious of his intentions. 
  • The Better Business Bureau raised concerns after an organization claiming to run a safe house opened an account with Fundly. The organizers of “I Am My Sister’s Keeper” had a history of shady behavior; it didn’t appear on lists of registered charities, and job seekers reported problems after they were asked to fill out tax forms with their social security information for jobs that never existed. 

YouCaring Scams

  • Donors to “Mindy’s Army” believed that they were helping Mindy Taylor fight cancer. Instead, they were contributing to a scam. Mindy used the money to pay for her personal expenses, and spent her free time drumming up stories about cancer, lupus, and heart disease for her fans on social media. 
  • 18-year-old Kyle McConkey was the subject of a memorable picture at a formal event, as the bald, cancer-fighting teen received a kiss from a pretty girl. The fundraiser that his family set up for him on YouCaring was real, but another call for donations on the very same site was a fake. A campaign on behalf of “Kyle McKlusky” used the same picture, and although police managed to shut it down with barely $300 raised, the touching picture ended up becoming a scammer magnet, with more fake fundraisers popping up with the same picture. 
  • A man who set up a Youcaring site to fund his medical expenses for kidney disease managed to fool his friends into donating money to his cause. Kyle Hallman said he needed dialysis while he was waiting for a new kidney, but his friends grew suspicious and went to the police after the details of his story didn’t add up. 
  • Melissa Barton solicited money on Youcaring by posting pictures of herself looking unwell in bed. She claimed that she and her son both had cancer, and managed to bilk donors out of thousands of dollars before getting caught.

Fundrazr Scams

  • Jamie Decker took to Fundrazr with a plea for money to help her sick son Chance Houlihan go to Disney World before he died of cancer. She does have a son called Chance, but doctors say he never had cancer. Donors became suspicious after seeing her husband’s spending habits change as the money in their Fundrazr account grew. 
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