It looked enough like Linda Schulman’s Facebook account that even her friends were fooled.
As CBS New York reports, Linda’s son, Scott Beigel, was one of the heroes of the Parkland school shooting. A native of Long Island, Beigel was a geography teacher and cross country coach at Stoneman Douglas High School. According to the Sun Sentinel, Beigel gave his life while helping students hide from the gunman.Screenshot/CBS New York
In the wake of the tragedy, Beigel’s family is setting up a memorial scholarship in his name that will send underprivileged children to the summer camp he loved. They’re not looking for money for themselves or for funeral costs.
So Beigel’s mother and father were disgusted to find that scammers had set up fundraising efforts asking for donations to help the family. Father Michael told CBS New York:
“The GoFundMe page that we set up for our son is just the opposite. It’s not for us. We don’t want money for us. We want to keep his legacy alive.”
The false GoFundMe page was set up in Linda’s name, using a fake account that — at first glance — looks startlingly similar to hers. Linda told CBS New York she was stunned to learn someone was impersonating her in order to scam others out of donations:
“I think it’s disgusting. It’s the lowest of the low out there. I mean, how do you do that? It’s really despicable.”
The impostor nearly fooled one of Linda’s friends. After getting messages that sounded a lot like Linda, one friend told CBS New York the con man started asking for donations to pay some of Beigel’s debts:
“It seemed like it could have been my friend Linda. You know, ‘Thank you so much for being there for me. It’s been so hard. … Then [the messages went on to say Scott] went financially out on a limb to buy these gifts for his students and would I help with shipping or paying for the gifts.”
After being notified of the scam, Facebook and GoFundMe have removed the fake pages. However, in the wake of a tragedy, it is still very much a “donor beware” world. GoFundMe has a guarantee that it will refund donors if a campaign is fraudulent and promises to investigate allegations of misuse.
The Federal Trade Commission cautions donors not to assume that crowdfunding efforts via social media or fundraising pages are legitimate. Before giving to any campaign or charity it’s best to do your research.
CBS New York recommends carefully examining any social media account being used to solicit donations. The lack of posts or friends — as well as photos that could have been easily taken from elsewhere online — are red flags that point to a possible scam.
Beigel’s parents are proud of their son’s heroic actions. Linda, who has been visiting Florida to campaign for school safety, told the Sun-Sentinel:
“The pride and the love and the admiration that I have for my son, there are no words. He is so humble, and he never knew the value he had in everybody’s life. The school knows he was always committed to whatever it was that he was doing.”
That makes the idea of someone would using Beigel’s memory to con others especially disturbing. As Michael told CBS New York:
“I thought it was absolutely despicable. Our son gave his life to save his students and then you have people who are trying to scam other people to try to take advantage of that tragedy.”