In Times Of Shootings And Other Tragedies, Scammers Try To Defraud Would-Be Donors

· May 11, 2019, 12:14 am
Photo: STEM Shooting 16 | Flowers Candles MemorialDavid Zalubowski/AP Photo
A bouquet of flowers sits next to a row of candles outside the STEM School Highlands Ranch late Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo. A fatal shooting took place Tuesday at the charter school south of Denver. 

Douglas County and communities across the nation are rallying around STEM School Highlands Ranch students and their families after a school shooting on May 7 left 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo dead and eight of his classmates injured. 

As outpourings of support, both monetary and otherwise, pour into the community, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office are reminding people to be aware that fraudulent donation pages could be created to prey on the generosity of the community.  

Lt. Lori Bronner said that while their department hasn’t come across any fakes yet, it isn’t uncommon. 

“Unfortunately when we have tragic situations like that, people like to prey on the sympathies of other people and profit for their self so scams are prevalent during that time,” Bronner said.

There’s a few ways to be savvy against fake donation pages.

“Usually you want to look at where it’s originating from. Is it within the state of the incident, is it out of country,” Bronner said. “Does it say it’s going to a foundation or does it say it’s going to a person and is it really specific who it’s going to? Those are some of the things to look out for.”

Bronner said that pages using out-of-date information, or those with creators whose information can’t be easily found and verified, should also be avoided. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office pointed to Wells Fargo as a good platform for people to donate through.

Another option is the new nonprofit The Colorado Healing Fund, which aims to give Coloradans a reliable place to donate after a violent event. The fund was set up last year with help from the state Attorney General's office, which prosecutes fraud. Cynthia Coffman, the former Colorado Attorney General from 2015 to 2019, secured $1 million in seed money so the organization would be able to respond to a tragedy immediately.

Coffman, who now sits on the board for the Healing Fund, said the nonprofit is definitely filling a gap in need.

“The AG’s office would run across fake GoFundMe pages or a Facebook link, and people may not take the time to research who is behind that and where the money’s going,” she said.

The Colorado Healing Fund passes donations on to groups that work directly with the victims of mass violent events. The week's school shooting is the first time it's mobilized.
Coffman hopes that one day it will be the Red Cross of its kind.

“We want to be the organization that Coloradans think of as responding when there’s a mass casualty event that’s the result of an act of violence,” she said.

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