Viral GoFundMe Campaign Was A Hoax, Prosecutor Says

Remember that heartwarming story about a homeless man who gave his last $20 to a stranded woman who ran out of gas? Well, as it turns out, it was all a lie.

Court documents show that Johnny Bobbitt (the homeless man) conspired with Katelyn McClure (the stranded woman) and her former boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, to devise an uplifting tale about a generous vagrant. The goal? To convince the public to donate money to a GoFundMe campaign that was set up in Bobbitt’s honor.

The campaign was enormously successful, and raised approximately $400,000 in funds. But things went south when Bobbitt claimed that he didn’t receive all the money that he should have.

Photos posted on the couple’s social media accounts suggested that they used the funds to go on lavish vacations and expensive shopping trips. An investigation was launched, and the couple’s newly purchased BMW was seized in the process.

But things took an even worse turn when investigators discovered that the homeless man himself, Johnny Bobbitt, was in on it. A text message that McClure sent to her best friend revealed the deceptive nature of the story.

“Okay, so wait. The gas part is completely made up, but the guy isn’t,” McClure wrote. “I had to make something up to make people feel bad. So shush about the made up stuff.”

The prosecutor said the trio likely would have gotten away with it if they hadn’t run out of money and started fighting. Now, all three are facing charges of conspiracy and theft by deception.

“This type of case can damage the psyche of the public,” said prosecutor Scott Coffina. “A case like this can make generous people skeptical and a little more hesitant to help someone else in need.”

GoFundMe has promised to refund everyone who donated.

Photo courtesy of Sharaf Maksumov / Shutterstock


Couple Under Investigation for Defrauding Homeless Man

Last year, Kate McClure was in an unfortunate situation: out of gas and stranded on the side of the freeway outside of Philadelphia. She was spotted by John Bobbitt Jr., a homeless man who was a regular to that stretch of road. He only had 20 dollars, but he spent it to get her a can and a few gallons of gas, which got her home.

McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, said they were determined to pay back his kindness. They gave him warm clothes and $100, but didn’t stop there. They began a GoFundMe on his behalf. Bypassing all expectations, it raised more than $400,000 from 14,000 donors. Bobbitt compared it to winning the lottery.

But this is where this warm tale turns cold.

A year later, the money is gone, and where it’s gone is unclear. Bobbitt claims he was only ever given $75,000 and less than a third of that in cash. The attorney for McClure and D’Amico claims he was given over half of the raised funds.

During the time the GoFundMe was active, the couple promised donors they would use the funds to buy Bobbitt a house and set up two trusts to maintain him and turn the massive windfall into an income. Instead, a tip led Action News of Philadelphia to discover that the two had gone on expensive vacations, helicopter rides, and massive shopping sprees. Suspicious activity, as both McClure and D’Amico’s incomes together would barely stretch to be called middle class.

No house for Bobbitt materialized, nor trust. The couple bought him a used camper van, but as he pursued the rest of the money raised in his name, they evicted him, and he is once again homeless. In an interview with the Inquirer, D’Amico said he would continue controlling the money until Bobbitt is drug-free, which was never a part of the fundraising disclosure, and is at odds with the lawyer’s statements that there is no money left.

GoFundMe is participating in the courts’ investigation, and if the couple is found to have exploited Bobbitt and all 14,000 donors, has stated they intend to reimburse all donors up to $1,000 a head. They have also provided Bobbitt with $25,000 to help with living expenses.

Donation News

Emma Watson Makes Hefty Donation to Justice and Equality Fund

Emma Watson, one of the stars of Harry Potter and The Circle, has been an outspoken ambassador for the need to fortify women’s rights worldwide. It’s not only words she puts forth; Watson donated £1 million (nearly $1.4 million) to the Justice and Equality Fund, a recently set-up initiative to wage war on sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination.

“The figures are staggering,” says the landing page of the Justice and Equality Fund’s GoFundMe, where Watson was the first donor. “Half of all women have experienced sexual harassment at work. Nearly one in five women has suffered sexual assault. We are not talking about a few bad apples. We are waking up to the full scale of systemic abuse based on gender and power – abuse that hurts us all.” It provides footnotes to support its statistics.

“Like all big problems, it needs big, bold solutions,” the page continues. “We have created the Justice and Equality Fund to create the far-reaching personal, social, legal, and policy changes that will ensure everyone can feel safe at work, at play, and at home. Together we can end the culture of harassment, abuse, and impunity.”

While Watson has not made her own statement about the donation, it came on the same day she co-signed an open letter alongside 200 other celebrities vowing to fight in solidarity with other women against abuse and harassment. She shared an image of the letter on her Instagram, with the hashtag #TIMESUP.

“All of us are responsible for creating change, whatever industry you work in,” Watson posted alongside the letter. “We’re asking everyone to help create a world we can be proud of—one that is safe, just, and equal.”

Watson’s donation accounts for the bulk of the nearly £1.6 million the Fund has raised in just seven days. Actors like Keira Knightly, Tom Hiddleston, and Catriona Balfe have donated as well, and three anonymous donors together contributed £525,000. The Justice and Equality Fund’s current goal is £2 million, to be used for outreach, legal aid, and political work.


YouTuber Raises $120,000 for Charity in 3 Days

We all know by now that celebrities can help raise money for charity. But did you know that YouTubers can, too?  A recent example of this is Markiplier, a YouTuber who is best known for gaming videos.

Markiplier set out to raise $100,000 for the Human Rights Campaign via the crowdfunding site GoFundMe. Within 3 days, 6,175 people had raised $128,888 dollars, which works out to about $20 per person.

That’s a pretty successful campaign, and since it isn’t over yet, it’s possible that it could raise even more. This is not Markiplier’s first run at raising money for charity; in the past, he’s raised $70,000 for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and $275,000 for Depression and Bipolar Support. But the speed and success with which he raised the money should give charities a reason to pause, as there are a few lessons to be learned here.

First, of course, is the power of social media and crowdfunding to not only get the message out, but also to raise money in a way that Internet savvy donors seem increasingly comfortable. Doing a fundraiser on a site like GoFundMe, supported with smart use of social media, can be a lot cheaper than more traditional methods like cold calling or mailers. It is not easy to do, however.

The other lesson though, is that YouTube celebrities are perhaps the best place to look if you want to add star power to a campaign. While they might not resonate with older consumers, the most popular YouTubers have built dedicated fan bases that are loyal and willing to offer support.

While it’s a safe bet that Markiplier, judging by the success of his campaign, has a lot of LGBTQ+ followers (he has over 16 million subscribers on YouTube) there’s a good chance that some of the people who donated aren’t part of that community. That’s a strong pull for a good cause.


Crowdfunding Your Charity

Crowdfunding, using the Internet to raise money from large groups of people from across the country or the world, is a relatively new but very useful tool in generating capital. Companies often use it to generate investment from customers, and creative types use it to get the money to make films and other products. But crowdfunding can be used for charitable work as well.

Most crowdfunding takes place on websites specifically for that purpose, allowing people to make their information readily available to potential supporters, and which makes collecting money easy. In most cases, people who support your campaign get rewards for doing so, like copies of the product being funded, usually offered at different tiers of support.

Kickstarter: Probably the leader of the pack, and easily the most recognizable, Kickstarter has been a huge boon for companies and creators that want to produce products without having to find traditional investors. Kickstarter requires that campaigns have both a deadline, and that they reach a particular dollar goal before any money is collected (or any fees are charged).

IndieGoGo: Not as well known as Kickstarter, IndieGoGo has certain advantages despite its smaller share of the market. Namely, you don’t have to meet a goal before you get money from your supporters, meaning that even if you don’t hit your target, you still get the money people pledged. This is a double-edged sword though, as it means you might not make enough to actually cover the costs of sending items to your supporters.

GoFundMe: An up-and-coming site, GoFundMe allows people to set up personal fundraising to, for example, make rent one month or to raise money for an operation. They don’t require that campaigns set specific dollar goals or deadlines, meaning that you can raise as much as you need, and receive those donations.

If you’re interested in crowdfunding, do some research to find the site that works best for you. There are tons of articles about how best to raise money through crowdfunding sites, and there are even companies who specialize in this kind of business.