You need some money—your utility bills were higher than you expected this month, you had an expected car repair, and your paycheck is just barely covering your rent. You come up with the idea to create a sob story and post it on a crowdfunding site to help you make ends meet. Now your fake story is gaining traction and you’re receiving money. Could you get in trouble? Is making a fake Go Fund Me a crime?
Go Fund Me and other crowdfunding platforms work on the premise of people supporting other people or ideas. Essentially, anyone can use the platform to share their story and why they need money. These platforms have clear (though generally pretty long) terms and conditions that state what is and what isn’t allowed.
“You, as a Campaign Organizer, represent, warrant, and covenant that (i) all information you provide in connection with a Campaign is accurate, complete, and not likely to deceive reasonable Users; (ii) all Donations contributed to your Campaign will be used solely as described in the materials that you post or otherwise provide; (iii) you will not infringe the rights of others; (iv) you will comply with all relevant and applicable financial reporting obligations, including but not limited to laws and regulations relating to tax reporting, political contributions, and asset disclosures for your project; and (v) to the extent you share with us any personal data of any third party for any purpose, including the names, email addresses and phone numbers of your personal contacts, you have the authority (including any necessary consents), as required under applicable law, to provide us with such personal data and allow us to use such personal data for the purposes for which you shared it with us. You authorize GoFundMe, and GoFundMe reserves the right to provide information relating to your Campaign to Donors, beneficiaries of your Campaign or law enforcement, and to assist in any investigation thereof.”
As stated, deceiving users is against Go Fund Me’s terms. Beyond that, defrauding users could lead to criminal charges. In addition, Go Fund Me makes it clear that they will work with law enforcement.
What is Fraud?
At its most basic, fraud is about deception.
According to Go Fund Me’s site, they consider the following as fraudulent activity:
- Breaking the law
- Lying or being misleading about your identity as a campaign organizer or your relationship to the beneficiary of the funds
- Posting misleading statements in the campaign description
- Not delivering funds to the stated beneficiary
- Not using funds for their stated purpose
Florida Statute 817.034, the Florida Communications Fraud Act, is the law that would be used to punish someone for profiting from a fake Go Fund Me campaign. It states:
(a) Any person who engages in a scheme to defraud and obtains property thereby is guilty of organized fraud, punishable as follows:
1. If the amount of property obtained has an aggregate value of $50,000 or more, the violator is guilty of a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
2. If the amount of property obtained has an aggregate value of $20,000 or more, but less than $50,000, the violator is guilty of a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
3. If the amount of property obtained has an aggregate value of less than $20,000, the violator is guilty of a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
(b) Any person who engages in a scheme to defraud and, in furtherance of that scheme, communicates with any person with intent to obtain property from that person is guilty, for each such act of communication, of communications fraud, punishable as follows:
1. If the value of property obtained or endeavored to be obtained by the communication is valued at $300 or more, the violator is guilty of a third degree felony, punishable as set forth in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
2. If the value of the property obtained or endeavored to be obtained by the communication is valued at less than $300, the violator is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as set forth in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
Basically, the penalties for this type of fraud depends on the amount made through the Go Fund Me campaign. If you’ve been charged under the Florida Communications Fraud Act or fear you might be, it’s crucial that you seek sound legal advice from a Tampa defense attorney.
Ultimately, how the statute is applied to your case will depend on the unique circumstances surrounding it. For legal advice that is specific to your situation, you must speak with a qualified attorney.
What Other Crimes Can You Be Charged With?
At the time of writing, creating a fake Go Fund Me or other crowdsource campaign, or otherwise soliciting funds online for deceptive purposes, only falls under the Florida Communications Fraud Act. If, however, you engage in other behaviors in your attempt to defraud (like stealing someone’s identity or intellectual property), you will be charged accordingly.
Depending on the breadth of the fraud, prosecutors may seek multiple charges. For example, if you used multiple crowdsourcing sites to share your story, you may be charged with multiple counts of fraud.
Concerned? Talk to Lawyer Today
If you’re concerned that you are under investigation for fraud or if you have been charged with fraud, it’s crucial that you secure legal representation immediately. In order to protect your rights and put forth a viable defense, you must seek counsel from a skilled Tampa defense lawyer. Call Mike G Law today for your free consultation.