Photos of sick Iowa child used in social media ‘scam’ targeting Campbell River residents

The image of a five-year-old Iowa boy who died of cancer last year was used for a fundraising campaign in Campbell River.

A local non-profit says it knows the identity of an alleged fraudster who used photos of a child from Iowa to launch a fake fundraising campaign targeting Campbell River residents on social media.

Someone going by the name of “Bob Dino” claimed to be raising money for the funeral expenses of a child named Dakota.

But the Cameryn’s Cause for Kids Society – a local group that provides financial assistance to families in crisis situations including the death of a child – said in a Jan. 4 statement that the user “is a fraud and is using a stolen photo of another child from the Internet.”

The user claimed that Cameryn’s Cause was supporting the campaign, but that statement was patently false, according to the non-profit society.

“We take fraud seriously and are disgusted that someone would attach our name to their scam,” the statement said. “We have a screening process that we follow for each applicant.”

In an update on Jan. 6, Cameryn’s Cause said the person behind the campaign is known to the group and to police, and that she goes by several names online.

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“We cannot release her name but will say that she is a Campbell River resident who operates on social media under several aliases,” the statement said.

The Campbell River RCMP didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment on Monday, but Cameryn’s Cause said that it had provided information about the local resident to police.

Cameryn’s Cause said it also contacted police in Iowa, because the campaign also used photos of a now-deceased child from that state for the campaign. The group thanked members of the public for raising the issue and providing information “to let us know who this person is.”

By using Google’s reverse image search function, the Mirror has confirmed that the child is Garrett Matthias, a boy from Van Meter, Iowa, who died of cancer in July 2018.

Matthias’ case was widely reported by American media after his parents wrote a unique obituary based on the five-year-old child’s comments during his sickness, including “See ya later, suckas!” A GoFundMe set up to cover his medical expenses and other costs raised more than $71,000.

READ MORE: Man caught on camera allegedly trying to defraud ICBC

Compared to the original, the new and apparently fake campaign was a flop. GoFundMe told the Mirror in a Jan. 7 email that “no funds were raised and the campaign was removed by the campaign organizer.”

Caitlin Stanley, a spokesperson for GoFundMe, said that “campaigns with misuse” are “extremely rare and make up less than one-tenth of one per cent of all campaigns.”

The statement indicated that donors receive a refund “in the rare case that GoFundMe, law enforcement or a user finds campaigns are misused.”

Stanley said that donations to GoFundMe campaigns are “collected by our payment processors, held, and then released only to the person named as the beneficiary.”

She said that funds are only released “once we know who you are, who you’re raising the funds for, your relationship to the beneficiary (if there is one), how the funds are being spent, and how the funds are being delivered to the beneficiary (if there is one).”

READ MORE: Fundraiser launched for former Campbell River man badly injured in workplace explosion

Campbell River resident Sue Halstead says she and her husband shelled out $20 using a Facebook donation page (which has since been deleted) after seeing the appeal for funds on her husband’s news feed.

She sent an instant message to “Bob Dino,” asking whether the child was a twin, as indicated by a photo, and the Facebook user said yes.

Halstead told the user that GoFundMe might be more effective than Facebook for fundraising.

Halstead told the user that a GoFundMe might be more effective.

“The next thing I know, (the user) sends me back a GoFundMe page that’s been started,” she said.

The user then shared it on Campbell River Rant, Rave and Randomness, a popular Facebook forum (that post has also been deleted).

Halstead said she was relieved to know the story about the death of a local child wasn’t true when she saw the statement from Cameryn’s Cause.

But she was also appalled that someone would use real photos of a child dying of cancer to tug on people’s heartstrings.

“I was just disgusted that somebody would do that,” she said.

“(They) didn’t raise a lot of money,” she added. “But for some people $20 is a lot of money, and I think somebody donated $50.”

Halstead said the experience wouldn’t prevent her from supporting other causes, but said she hopes to learn more about how to avoid being taken in by online scams.

“You can’t stop trying to help people because of something like this,” she said.

How to avoid scams

Downloading a picture from a campaign website and running it through Google reverse image search can help determine whether the image has been poached from someone else online.

It’s also a good idea to check whether a trusted news source has been in contact with someone involved in the fundraising effort.

GoFundMe also lists a number of guidelines on its website for determining the legitimacy of a campaign.

The guidelines state that by reading a campaign page, a potential donor should be able to find out: how the campaign organizer is related to the beneficiary; the purpose of the campaign and how funds will be used; whether direct relatives and friends support the campaign; and whether the recipient is in control of withdrawals, or how the funds will reach them.

”If any of the points above are missing on the campaign, we encourage you to message the organizer by clicking the envelope icon next to their name to ask for more information,” the guidelines state.

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