How Can You Tell If a GoFundMe Fundraiser Is Legitimate?

We checked out GoFundMe’s vetting process and new hub for verified Maui wildfire disaster fundraisers and got tips for spotting red flags.


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This story is part of our HONOLULU series, “We Have Questions,” with our editorial team tackling questions being asked in the aftermath of the recent Maui fires.





Taking care of one another is the local way. And when tragedy strikes, as it has with the Maui wildfires, we seek ways to help, including donating funds via crowdfunding platforms, such as GoFundMe.


But such an outpouring of generosity can also attract opportunists looking to profit from fraudulent appeals. A few O‘ahu apparel brands have already had fundraiser designs stolen and used to create fake merchandise.


This got us wondering if there are simple ways to tell if a GoFundMe campaign is legitimate and about how the platform authenticates fundraisers. Here’s what we found:


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Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images/Neustockimages



At the time of publication, the platform has raised more than $40 million, donated by more than 290,000 people across all 50 U.S. states and more than 100 countries, to help communities affected by the Maui wildfires.


The good news is that, according to GoFundMe, fraudulent fundraisers on its site are very rare and make up less than one-tenth of 1% of its fundraisers.


When reading through its policies we learned that GoFundMe uses specific guidelines to “verify” fundraisers. What does this mean exactly? Well, for a fundraiser to be verified, “it must be clear who the organizer is, as well as the person, business, or charity they are raising funds for, the organizer’s relationship to the recipient of fund and how the funds will be used,” a GoFundMe representative explained.


The platform doesn’t visibly label fundraisers as “verified”, so to help donors more easily connect with local appeals, GoFundMe has created a centralized hub on its website for verified Maui wildfire-related fundraisers. It makes a point to note, however, that just because a fundraiser isn’t currently within said hub, it doesn’t necessarily indicate anything suspicious—it may just be that the fundraiser is still undergoing the verification process.


SEE ALSO: Maui Wildfires: How to Support Our Maui Neighbors From O‘ahu


Blue Key With The Text Donation On The Keyboard. Concept Of Charity Online

Photo: Courtesy of iStock/Getty Images, Kirill Gorshklov



Also, once a fundraiser has concluded, GoFundMe takes additional measures to ensure that donations are only released to the person named as beneficiary. This includes confirming their identity via required documentation, which differs by country. In the U.S., this includes:

  • A U.S. Social Security number or ITIN
  • A U.S. driver’s license, U.S. State ID or a valid passport from any country
  • A non-P.O. box residential address in one of the 50 states
  • A U.S. phone number
  • A U.S. bank account in their name in the currency the fundraiser was set up in
  • Must be 18 years of age or over


If someone creates a fundraiser and cannot receive the funds (translation: can’t meet the requirements), all donations will be refunded. Additionally, the platform has what it calls a GoFundMe Giving Guarantee, a policy that guarantees a full refund of donations if a fundraiser is deemed fraudulent. Donations, of any amount, are covered for a year after donated.


The platform also offers the following tips for determining legitimacy:

  • Review the fundraiser page: Does the fundraiser have a clear title, image, and story?
  • Understand the use of funds: What is the purpose of the fundraiser and is the organizer transparent about how funds will be used?
  • Check the beneficiary connection: How is the organizer related to the recipient of the funds? And if the intended recipient is not in control of the withdrawals, is there a clear path for the funds to reach them?
  • Look at the comments and donations: Are direct family, friends or community members making donations and leaving supportive comments?
  • Beyond this, you could also use a secondary source, such as Google or social media, to confirm a fundraiser or recipient’s authenticity.


With all of this said, it’s important to remember that most people (in our experience) are honest and good-intentioned. Be careful with donations, but don’t let the bad few get in the way of taking care of one another and showing aloha.


SEE ALSO: What Other Areas of Hawai‘i Are at High Risk for Wildfires?