PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Across the state line in Ohio, 13-year-old Tyree King was killed by a drunk driver last summer.
The next day, a neighbor — unknown to the family — offered to set up a YouCaring crowdfunding website to raise money for Tyree’s funeral expenses.
“So we definitely though she was a good neighbor,” recalled Ebony Baker, Tyree’s mother.
Online sites are increasingly popular ways to raise money for everything from medical bills to even college tuition.
Crowdfunding sites raised an estimated $2 billion in 2015, profiting themselves usually by fees or percentage of donations.
But this industry is largely unregulated.
It turned out that the King’s neighbor — Tina Harper — pocketed more than one-third of the nearly $3,000 raised for Tyree’s funeral and pleaded guilty to telecommunications fraud.
“It was sickening because for her to play on a family and use their kid for that reason is just crazy,” said Baker.
“Frankly, it’s embarrassing,” noted YouCaring’s Daniel Saper.
Saper insists incidents of fraud are rare.
“We’re launching hundreds of thousands of fundraisers a year, and the vast, vast majority of people who are coming to us to use the site are good-natured people who have real needs here and now,” added Saper.
GoFundMe claims fraud occurs less than one-tenth of one percent of the time.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office offers advice to those thinking of making online donations in situations like this.
“Don’t donate to a person you don’t already know. Make sure that it’s someone you know like a family member or friends or that someone who’s in your family or close friend can vouch for that person,” spokesperson Sadie Martin told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.
University of Pennsylvania Prof. Ethan Mollick, who studies crowdfunding, agrees.
“It’s only when people are soliciting money and you don’t know who they are that it starts to get suspicious,” said Mollick.