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Scammer Uses Dead Soldier to Defraud Donors

   Dec 01, 2012

 "My name is Tiffany Fennery, I'm posting this for my family and my twin brother, Chris, who lost both his legs and his left arm," a recent posting on Craigslist Pensacola stated. Chris Fennery stepped on an improvised explosive device this year on Mother's Day, Tiffany attested, and "I have set the goal at $5,000 but anything will help as we struggle through this time in our lives." This same plea was posted on a campaign hosted by Indiegogo, a fundraising website. There was something wrong with both of these heartrending postings: they were fraudulent.

According to the Pensacola News Journal, Chris Fennery does not exist in Pentagon records and was not a patient at the hospital specified in the ad. The soldier in the picture was actually a similarly-named Sgt. Sean Patrick Fennerty, whose photo was published with his obituary in an Oregon newspaper. He died in Iraq in 2007 and does not have a sister named Tiffany. His family has never solicited funds on his behalf. His father, Dr. Brian Fennerty, told the Journal, "I want this exposed. I just wish there was a way to keep this sort of thing from happening again."

Indiegogo (www.indiegogo.com) is a fundraising platform similarly structured to Kickstarter, which utilizes "crowdfunding." A user creates a campaign to solicit funds directly from the public. Anyone can browse the site for a cause and donate directly. This allows donors to get in on the ground level of projects that resonate with them, but also leaves room for donors to get duped. Indiegogo states on its website that "anyone with a bank account can start a campaign" and "[w]e don't have an application process [to create a campaign]." True identities can be kept anonymous on Craigslist, making it difficult to verify the solicitor. Indiegogo claims to have a fraud-prevention system that requires all campaigns and contributions to undergo fraud review and terminates campaigns that are deemed fraudulent.

Even with such controls in place, donors need to beware of solicitations from individuals. Even when a request comes from a person legitimately in need, donors run the risk of flooding a single person or family with a windfall of cash while the needs of other families in similarly dire circumstances go tragically unmet. Donors should instead seek out legitimate, efficient charities that have expertise in identifying individuals in need and can provide the amount and type of assistance in line with the goals of the donor.