Can I Be Charged with Fraud for Starting a Fake Go Fund Me?
At some point in their lives, most people find themselves facing unexpected financial stress. Whether you have to pay for an unforeseen car repair or medical procedure, it can be hard to pay unanticipated bills. Some people turn to online platforms, such as Go Fund Me, to raise money to pay their bills. This usually entails creating a fake story and convincing Go Fund Me users to contribute to your “cause.”
In some cases, these fake stories gain traction and receive large donations despite their lack of legitimacy. As a result, the creator of a fake Go Fund Me could face criminal charges such as fraud. Here’s a look at the potential consequences of starting a fake Go Fund Me.
Go Fund Me’s User Agreement and Rules
Go Fund Me—along with other crowdfunding platforms—look to promote people’s causes and ideas. Ultimately, anyone can start a Go Fund Me to share their story with the platform’s users in hopes of gathering donations. However, Go Fund Me and other similar platforms have user agreements that outline allowed and prohibited behaviors. In general, these platforms expect honest campaigns and stories that raise money for their described purpose. Some of the rules outlined in Go Fund Me’s user agreement include:
- You must agree that as a “Campaign Organizer,” you will showcase accurate information that does not deceive users.
- Any donations made to your cause must only be used as they are described in your post.
- You must adhere to all financial reporting obligations, such as tax reporting.
- Go Fund Me has the right to share information about your campaign to beneficiaries and, if needed, law enforcement officials.
In the user agreement, Go Fund Me clearly states that deceiving users is against its rules and that they will work with law enforcement should an investigation arise. According to the conditions outlined on their site, Go Fund Me considers the following activities as fraudulent acts:
- Lying about your identity or relationship to your stated cause
- Not using your raised funds for your campaign’s stated purpose
- Stating untrue claims in your campaign’s description
- Failing to deliver raised funds to a campaign’s stated beneficiary
If you are found in breach of any of these conditions, you could potentially face criminal charges.
How Florida Law Defines Fraud
In the case that someone is found running a fraudulent Go Fund Me, legal action might be taken against them under the Florida Communications Fraud Act. This act defines fraudulent activities that are categorized as criminal behaviors and attempts to prevent the use of communications technology to further fraud schemes. Under the law, any person who participates in a scheme to illegally obtain money from a group of people and obtains that property is guilty of organized fraud. Some potential penalties for this violation include:
- A first-degree felony charge, if the amount of property or money obtained is over $50,000
- A second-degree felony charge, if the amount of property or money obtained is more than $20,000 but less than $50,000
Additionally, the act makes it illegal for any person to communicate with a party with the intent to illegally obtain money or property from them. Any person that violates these conditions may face the following consequences:
- A third-degree felony charge, if the value of the property obtained or attempted to obtain, is valued at $300 or more
- A misdemeanor charge, if the value of the property obtained or attempted to obtain is valued at less than $300
If you are found guilty of fraud, the legal action taken against you will depend on the unique circumstances surrounding your situation. For the best legal advice specific to your case, it is imperative to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Consult With a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer in Central Florida
Florida has some of the strictest fraud laws and penalties. If you are facing fraud charges, it is important to seek legal counsel from a skilled criminal defense lawyer. At the Umansky Law Firm, we believe everyone has the right to a strong defense. We work tirelessly to ensure our client’s side of the story is told to the court.
Our team has more than 100 years of combined experience in criminal law. We work closely with our clients and communicate with them through every stage of the legal process. To schedule a free consultation, call our office or complete an online contact form for a free consultation.