Within a day after two Honolulu police officers were shot and killed while responding to a call for help in Diamond Head, a GoFundMe campaign emerged, seeking funds to help Tiffany Enriquez and Kaulike Kalama.
The link circulated on Facebook, with warnings that it was a scam, and that the families did not know Dereck Robinson, the organizer. It has since been suspended, according to GoFundMe spokeswoman Jenny Perillo, until the organizer can provide additional information.
Perillo said if the organizer does not do so, donors will be refunded.
“When there’s an unspeakable tragedy, people have a deep urge to help and provide comfort to those impacted —it’s not uncommon for someone to create a GoFundMe to help another individual after a news report,” said Perillo in an email. “We are monitoring all campaigns set up to support those impacted by this tragedy.”
Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection, said it is not unusual for GoFundMe campaigns to pop up following a tragedy like Sunday’s fatal shooting and fires.
“One of the things you want to determine is whether the recipient of the campaign is aware of the campaign and has authorized the campaign,” said Levins. “People may have the best intentions. I’m not suggesting everyone who sets these up is a fraudster, but there are people who will take advantage of the situation.”
Donations to GoFundMe campaigns are not always tax deductible, he added, and if anyone is launching one, it is best to have permission from the beneficiary or their family first.
Perillo said two verified campaigns have since been launched.
The campaign said funds would help Enriquez’s family pay for funeral and memorial expenses.
As of noon today, the campaign had raised $2,485 of its $10,000 goal.
Another GoFundMe campaign for the officers, created by Andy “Alo” Ahuna-Alofaituli, a correctional officer from Hilo, has also been reviewed, said Perillo. It had been suspended temporarily for review, and is now up again.
Ahuna-Alofaituli said he is not related to the families, but that he considers himself part of the “bigger family within the law enforcement which considers us all to be brothers and sisters in blue.”
His approach, he said, is to organize recycling runs to redeem beverage containers to help raise funds.
He posted a video on his Facebook page to explain that he launched the campaign because he cares.
A verified campaign must include who the organizer is, where he or she is from and their relationship to the parties who would benefit from the funds. In addition, there must be information on how the funds will be spent. A GoFundMe team works with payment partners to verify personal information.
“We are working with the campaign organizer and we guarantee the money will go to the families of the fallen officers,” said Perillo. “Ahuna-Alofaituli does not have access to the funds.”
Today, another campaign was launched by Keoni Chan for Kalama, which said it had permission from his wife.
“If a donor has a question or wants to know more about a campaign before they donate, they can reach out to our team or the campaign organizer directly through the GoFundMe page by clicking the envelope next to the campaign organizer’s name,” said Perillo.
If there is no response or concerns, campaigns can be flagged by clicking on “Report Campaign” on the page.
“GoFundMe has a dedicated Trust & Safety team working around the clock to keep the platform safe,” said Perillo. “In addition to the team of experts, we deploy proprietary technical tools and have multiple processes in place to verify the identity of campaign organizers and the beneficiary of the campaign. Before money is transferred, an individual or organization’s information, including their banking information, must be verified.”
Although the platform is free, there is a 2.9% transaction fee plus 30-cents per donation for credit card processing and the transfer of funds.