Woman allegedly fakes cancer, raises more than $38,000 in crowdfunding

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An Alabama woman is accused of lying about having terminal cancer in order to bilk people out of nearly $40,000 on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe, according to a release from that state’s attorney general.

Jennifer Flynn Cataldo, 37, of Sterrett allegedly set up two different GoFundMe campaigns to help with medical bills and a family trip to Disney, to which donations totaled more than $38,000. She’s been charged with two counts of first-degree theft by deception.

GoFundMe has said the money will be returned to users who backed Cataldo’s campaigns, according to AL.com.

If you think you may be a victim of Cataldo, you’re asked to contact the Criminal Trials Division at 334-353-1875.

How you can avoid online fundraising scams

The Federal Trade Commission has some good advice to help you avoid becoming a victim of people trying to steal your hard-earned cash in the name of charity.

  • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number
  • Get the exact name of the organization and do some research. Searching the name of the organization online — especially with the word “complaint(s)” or “scam”— is one way to learn about its reputation
  • Be wary of charities that spring up too suddenly in response to current events and natural disasters. Even if they are legitimate, they probably don’t have the infrastructure to get the donations to the affected area or people
  • Check if the charity is trustworthy by contacting the Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar
  • Keep a record of your donations
  • Never send cash donations. For security and tax purposes, it’s best to pay by check — made payable to the charity — or by credit card
  • If a donation request comes from a group claiming to help your local community (for example, local police or firefighters), ask the local agency if they have heard of the group and are getting financial support
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