Careful where you click: Tragedies like Michigan's Oxford school shooting attract scammers

Tragedy can unite communities, shine a light on heroes and remind us once again that life is indeed incredibly fragile.

And tragedy opens the door for the scammers who know all too well how to trick us during our times of deep sadness.

People naturally are looking for updates online and via social media on the violence at Oxford High School where 11 people were shot Tuesday after a 15-year-old suspect fired more than 30 rounds, according to authorities.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, four teens were dead – Hana St. Juliana, Tate Myre, Madisyn Baldwin, and Justin Shilling.

Many times, we keep searching for answers to senseless violence and we want to do something.

At the same time, though, it’s essential to be reminded that we need to be extremely careful about where we donate money and where we click on links for information.

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Bad actors put up harmful links

The Macomb County Memories Facebook site, for example, warned its group to be cautious when clicking Facebook links that pretend to be news about the Oxford school shooting.

“This is a new scam that seems to be circulating and they have been trying to post it here,” according to the group, which often shares old pictures and brings up memories about long-gone area retailers.

The link “leads to pages which appear to manipulate or trick users into providing sensitive information,” the post noted.

Consumer watchdogs warn that it’s pretty common for crooks to be so brazen that they’d use our times of sorrow against us.

“Unfortunately, we see scams like this appear any time there’s a tragedy such as the one that happened in Oxford yesterday,” said Laura Blankenship, chief of staff and director of marketing for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Michigan.

Links posted by bad actors could contain malware that would unknowingly be downloaded by anyone who clicks on them. Fraudsters are aiming to scam people out of personal information or install malware or spyware on devices.

“If malware is downloaded to a device,” Blankenship said, “the scammer would then have access to the person’s personal information.”

► ‘Intent to kill’:A visual timeline of deadly shooting at Oxford High School

How to give wisely

Another potential trouble spot: fake crowdfunding efforts.

And the crowdfunding sites are well aware of potential problems.

“Immediately following news reports, GoFundMe mobilized its crisis response team and began monitoring the platform for fundraisers for families and individuals affected by the shooting at Oxford High School,” said Angelique McNaughton, a GoFundMe spokesperson.

“When there’s an unspeakable tragedy like this, people have a deep urge to help and provide comfort to those affected,” McNaughton said.

Friends and community members often want to create a GoFundMe to support people hurt in a shooting or disaster.

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Careful where you click: Tragedies like Michigan's Oxford school shooting attract scammers

GoFundMe launched what it called “the Oxford High School shooting hub” as a way for donors to identify fundraisers that have been verified by its Trust and Safety team.

The hub will continue to be updated as new fundraisers are verified to support affected individuals and families.

McNaughton noted that when a fundraiser is started, money is collected by the payment processor and held until the fundraiser beneficiary is identified.

“In most cases, when an organizer is fundraising on behalf of another person or family, they will never have access to the funds raised,” she said.

GoFundMe, she said, works directly with the organizer to make sure the money raised is transferred to the recipient.

GoFundMe said consumers want to take time to review the fundraiser page to see whether there is a clear title, image, and fundraiser story. Also, check the beneficiary connection: How is the campaign organizer related to the beneficiary of the fundraiser?

If someone has any questions about the fundraiser, you can use a contact button to reach the campaign organizer. There’s also a Report Fudraiser button and clicking on that button will drive a specialist to investigate the fundraiser.

The GoFundMe Guarantee certifies that when something isn’t right with a fundraiser, donors may be eligible for a 100% refund of their donation, according to the company.

“While crowdfunding sites do a good job of making sure the funds actually go to the fundraising organizer,” the BBB’s Blankenship said, “that does not mean the organizer actually knows the person it’s saying it benefits.”

The best choice in this situation, she said, is to only give to people you know or the friend of someone you know.

It is important to move cautiously, though, when you’re dealing with an event that’s generated national news.

“It’s sad that people would take advantage of others during such an unthinkable time but unfortunately, it does happen,” Blankenship said.

Gun violence in Idaho in May, for example, led the state Attorney General to warn about scam fundraisers related to the shooting at Rigby Middle School.

The notice stated: “Be wary of crowdfunding campaigns and social network fundraising. Crowdfunding can be a great way to fundraise, but it also is an attractive tool for scammers.”

The tips included asking the person who is collecting the money what percentage of donations will be used for the charitable purpose, what’s the amount of any added fees, and what percentage of a donation goes to the platform website. Donations to individuals are not tax-deductible.

A mass shooting at a Kroger in Tennessee in October led police in the suburban Memphis area to warn about a fake fundraising effort there claiming to help the family of a woman who was killed at the store.

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All sorts of fake efforts can crop up to steal money

I reported in October about a scammer who gained access to a Troy man’s Facebook account, changed the password and set up an online fundraising campaign that supposedly would cover the man’s cost for cancer treatment. He didn’t have cancer and only learned about the scam when his sister called to ask him what was wrong.

The scammer who set up the phony fundraiser in that case had already accumulated $1,785 out of a $4,500 goal by the time the man discovered the terrible fraud, according to a report with the Troy Police Department.

Never jump to conclusions or let anyone rush you into contributing money.

“Don’t assume that a request on social media is legitimate, or that hyperlinks are accurate just because a friend posted it,” according to an alert by the Federal Trade Commission.

If you think you’re donating to a charity, not an individual, consumer watchdogs say it’s best to go directly to that charity’s site. Don’t click on a link in an email.

Donors can review the charity’s tax-exempt status via a special tool at

It’s common that crooks can set up fraudulent websites for charities, which might have slightly different web addresses than the legitimate charity’s website.

Thinking about the potential for fraud is the last thing anyone wants to do when young lives are lost. But, like tragedies, it’s very much part of our landscape.

ContactSusan Tompor: Follow her on Twitter@tompor. To subscribe, please go to Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.

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