Update 9/8: GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne says the online platform has established a separate link at gofundme.com/Irma for all verified fundraisers. His statement to New Times has been posted below.
Hurricane Irma is still a few days away from making landfall in Florida, but plenty of meteorologists are already predicting the worst. If the Category 5 storm does hit Miami directly, as some models anticipate, the damage could be astounding. One estimate says the tab could reach as high as $300 billion.
With all of that destruction, there would be plenty of need for charitable donations. But as Miami and the rest of Florida
On GoFundMe, a page purporting to be from singer Jason Derulo has set a fundraising goal of $1 million for Irma victims.
"Hey Guys it's Jason Derulo, I'm here using my platform to help raise money for Hurricane Irma," the page says. "
Another page supposedly set up from Miami Beach says it hopes to raise up to $25,000 for hurricane relief on behalf of something called the Direct Impact Fund, which is described as "an independent, registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, to deliver tax-deductible donations to support Hurricane IRMA victims." But according to state business records, no such organization exists.
While some online fundraisers are obvious scams, others are more difficult to verify. New Times emailed ten people who have created faceless accounts on GoFundMe for Hurricane Irma to ask exactly how the money would be spent and how the organizer would account for his or her expenditures. Not one of them has emailed back.
Fundraising scams have already been milking people in Texas after Hurricane Harvey; the attorney general there has warned people not to donate to unfamiliar organizations or people. The attorneys general in Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Kentucky, and California have issued similar warnings.
Thankfully, GoFundMe has a policy of returning donors' money if fundraising pages are shown to be fake. See a suspicious page? The site has a button you can click to report a campaign, or you can file a complaint with the Florida attorney general at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM or myfloridalegal.com.
Update: GoFundMe spokesman Bobby Whithorne provided New Times with the following statement:
All donors and campaign organizers should feel confident in making a donation on GoFundMe. GoFundMe is the safest place to give and users are fully protected by the GoFundMe Guarantee (refund policy). GoFundMe created a central hub for verified GoFundMe campaigns: www.gofundme.com/Irma.
If a donor has a question or wants to know more about a campaign before they donate, they can reach out to our team or the Campaign Organizer directly through the GoFundMe page.
Here is a Medium post we posted about our safety measures to protect donors during the recovery:
One of the main points we stressed is the fact that GoFundMe has the ability to transfer funds directly to those in need. When a campaign is created to help another person or family, the funds are collected, held, and then transferred directly to the beneficiary of the GoFundMe rather than to the campaign organizer. That’s just one of the many ways we secure the platform and make sure the money quickly gets to the right party.
Our team is providing around-the-clock support. We will continue to stay in close touch with all organizers and beneficiaries to ensure the resources get to people in need as soon as possible.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.