TORONTO — Roxanne Belanger flips through old photo albums from her home in Sudbury and remembers happy times spent with her brother Roger, who was killed in a single vehicle crash in July when he lost control of his vehicle and ended up in a ditch.
The 29-year-old was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead. It’s been a shock to his sister, to his wife and to the two young sons he left behind.
So when a friend of Roger’s offered to start a GoFundMe campaign to help his widow and children, the family was exceptionally grateful.
“I’m not sure what her intentions were to begin with but we were incredibly grateful at first,” Roxanne said.
That gratitude ballooned when, within a few short weeks, they noted that 172 people had donated a total of $24,035.
The Belangers, who up until that point had been focused on the immense grief brought on by the sudden loss of Roger, decided to follow up with the GoFundMe site and ensure that the money would be available to Roger Belanger’s widow.
“We wanted to put the motions in place in order for my sister-in-law to have access to the money and although the person was forthcoming she never followed through on anything that she said she would do and that’s when we first became suspicious,” Roxanne said.
After repeated and unsuccessful attempts at contacting GoFundMe, which calls itself the “World’s #1 fundraising site for personal causes and life-events” and is based in San Diego, the Belangers quickly became frustrated.
“Even though my sister in law and nephews were the beneficiaries of the fund, because we weren’t the ones who had created it, they made it impossible for us to access it and have any information,” she said.
Finally, GoFundMe confirmed what the Belangers had suspected. The money was withdrawn in a number of installments and the fund had been drained.
After a call to the RCMP, an investigation was launched into the alleged fraud and is ongoing.
“I want to warn other people, I’m also telling this for my sister-in-law who is dealing with much more pain and anguish than the rest of us are,” she said.
Belanger is also taking action — not only for herself, as she too donated to the GoFundMe page — but to all the others who reached into their pockets to try and help.
“I’ve created an email account, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m encouraging people to email me if they have donated,” she said.
Belanger also contacted her credit card company and VISA has agreed to reimburse her, but she needs to prove a fraudulent activity has taken place.
She explained that she needs one piece of documentation and once she gets it, she will get her money back.
She wants others to contact her through that newly created email address and she will help them do the same.
Then they will hopefully donate to a proper, secure trust fund at TD bank established for her young nephews and their education.
“In very rare cases, there are allegations made that funds are not going to the person or people the campaign is designed to help,” a spokesperson for GoFundMe told Global News.
“In this particular case, there have been allegations of fraud raised and we are working with law enforcement to assist them in their investigation.”
Sadly, the RCMP confirm this is not entirely uncommon. They do respond to calls of this sort.
The CEO of Crowdfunding site FundRazr agrees.
“We can’t tell whether or not there is a relationship between people that have been good people in their lives so far, but now decide to go off and try to take money from a friend, or a neighbour or a co-worker,” Darly Hatton said, adding that the sudden popularity of this type of online fundraising makes it easier for scammers to strike.
“We’ve had a shooting, we’ve had a tragic accident and then some of the bad guys jump on that and try to take advantage early on for notoriety or for the money.”