The Disappointing Truth About the Crowdfunding Campaigns for Eric Garner

February 19th 2015

Alicia Lutes

Crowdfunding sites are all the rage these days, but is there any oversight of the dissemination of these funds? Eric Garner's family is probably asking that question. There are currently 19 campaigns dedicated to Garner, who died at the hands of NYPD officers in Staten Island last year, but the Garner family has yet to see a penny, according a report from DNAinfo.

"I feel like people are trying to use my father's name for their own gain," Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, told DNAinfo. "It's unfortunately a sad situation."

While Garner and her family are considering legal acting against these campaigns, it's still unclear who exactly is attempting to scam people into donations and who is legitimate. Some cases — like the Charlotte Activist Collective which DNAinfo states is seeking $1 million for the Garner family — claim they're in direct contact with the family. (No one in the Garner family has ever spoken to anyone connected to this group.) Other times, the intentions are more pure, but discerning if someone is actually a member of the Garner family and not some imposter can also be a challenge. Particularly when it's easy for a trickster with a bit of Internet savvy to pose online as someone they are not.

The ease of exploitation in these instances is staggering. Some places, like GoFundMe, allow campaigns to receive donations as soon as they're made, rather than funds being disseminated after they've reached their financial goals (like Kickstarter). The same is the case at Fundly, where the site states that "there is no minimum amount to raise in order to keep your funds. Payments are processed quickly and can usually be withdrawn in 24-48 hours of the donation. Automatic transfers can also be configured to further speed things up." This sort of freewheeling ability is, clearly, a very attractive deal for someone looking to make money off of someone else's misfortune. 

Now, GoFundMe has said that people are free to reach out and question the legitimacy of campaigns done in their or someone else's name, but that's only if they're aware of it — or if the person they're fundraising for are even real. As MTV's Catfish has shown us, however: it is very easy for imaginary people to seem real, and it's vital to protect yourself — even when you're donating to a cause.