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GoFundMe campaigns and Newton’s Law

Published August 31. 2018 12:19PM

Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Physics says, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

While it might be considered a stretch, Newton, if he were alive today, might have applied that law to the Internet and social media.

What an incredible advancement for us to have information at our fingertips instantaneously, to be able to contact others from just about anywhere and to have the world as our companions.

But there is a downside to this miraculous marvel: It is intrusive, it can dominate virtually every waking minute if we let it, and it exposes us to all sorts of bad outcomes, from hackers to con artists.

Crowdfunding, which has become so common today, is another example of Newton’s Third Law. Our good intentions to help others in need are offset by questionable or fraudulent fundraising activities which prey on our kindheartedness.

Crowdfunding harnesses the power of social networks and the internet to give people the means to raise funds, help others overcome hardship and meet aspirational goals. With crowdfunding, you can do everything from helping a friend pay for surgery to fulfilling a student’s dream of attending college, supporting a cause you believe in to helping an entire community recover from disaster.

Many in our area who were victims of accidents, fires, medical emergencies and other calamities were saved from financial ruin by friends, neighbors, acquaintances and complete strangers who responded to crowdfunding appeals. There also are pages created by the intended beneficiaries themselves.

Of course, the most prominent of these sites is GoFundMe. While millions have been raised for worthy causes, there have been instances of fraud and deception, so, donors, beware! GoFundMe is right up front with its warning: “There is no way to 100 percent guarantee that a user’s donation page contains accurate or truthful information. Donors should contribute only to users they personally know and trust.”

I was curious about some of the current campaigns in my area. A 21-year-old from North Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, is in the process of transgendering from female to male and is asking for help to finance a $20,000 phalloplasty (bottom) surgery. “If you could spare a few bucks, I would thoroughly appreciate it,” the donation-seeker wrote. The campaign is limping along with just $450 raised out of a goal of $10,000.

From Slatington, a daughter is attempting to raise $3,500 to help “cremate and celebrate the life” of her mother whose battle with breast cancer is “coming to a close.” So far, the fund has raised $1,400.

You might remember the headlines in 2017 when Johnny Bobbitt, a homeless veteran from Philadelphia, used his last $20 to buy gas for a stranded stranger, Kate McClure, who, with her boyfriend Mark D’Amico, showed her gratitude by setting up a GoFundMe page to help get Bobbitt a car and home.

The story went viral, and Bobbitt and McClure were interviewed on national television, and their story was cited as an example of generosity and goodness even from people who are nearly down and out on their luck.

The response was beyond incredible. Generous donors laid out more than $400,000 for Bobbitt.

Well, now it is all crashing down in accusations between Bobbitt and his benefactors. Bobbitt filed a lawsuit against the couple, trying to get the remaining $150,000-$200,000 from the fund. On Thursday, a New Jersey judge ordered the couple to transfer the money into an escrow account by the end of business Friday and hire a forensic accountant to review the financial records within 10 days

D’Amico previously said he wouldn’t turn over the remaining money because he said that Bobbitt had returned to the streets and resumed his former drug habit. D’Amico had said he would start dispensing additional money if Bobbitt got a job and stopped using drugs. He said giving money to an addict is like giving him “a loaded gun.”

Christopher C. Fallon, Bobbitt’s attorney, had said his client had no alternative except to file legal action because D’Amico ignored multiple requests for a full accounting of the money raised by the GoFundMe campaign.

In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bobbitt admitted giving some of the $25,000 the couple gave him to relatives and spending some of it to get drugs. GoFundMe is investigating whether the money was mismanaged.

By Bruce Frassinelli |

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