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GoFundMe CEO says crowdfunding platform would likely catch Johnny Bobbitt scam if it happened today

Accused $400 GoFundMe scam participant Johnny Bobbitt stands in Burlington County Court Friday December 14, 2018. (David Swanson/TNS/Released)

GoFundMe’s CEO believes the crowdfunding platform could stop a bogus campaign like the one that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt Jr. if it happened again.

Rob Solomon, who leads the for-profit GoFundMe, said as much during an appearance on NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt on Monday night, also telling correspondent Stephanie Gosk that misuse on the website is “very, very rare.”

Solomon’s comments came 16 months after then-couple Katelyn McClure and Mark D’Amico of Burlington County conspired with Bobbitt to launch the campaign by saying Bobbitt spent his last $20 to buy gas for McClure after she was stranded off an I-95 exit in 2017.

The campaign gained the attention of 14,000 donors from around the world, raising $400,000 that was meant to help Bobbitt get off the streets but was instead spent on lavish vacations, gambling excursions, a BMW, luxury handbags, and more for McClure and D’Amico, who gave Bobbitt about $25,000 and bought him a camper.

When the feel-good story collapsed, prosecutors charged the three with conspiracy and theft-by-deception, and GoFundMe said it would issue refunds to those who donated to the elaborate scam. Bobbitt and McClure pleaded guilty to federal charges in Camden last month. Cases remain pending against McClure and D’Amico in Burlington County, where Bobbitt has also pleaded guilty.

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Asked if the company would be able to catch the scam if it happened today, Solomon said he thought so.

“We would have determined the whole bank account issue if we would have figured out how to set up a bank account, make sure the funds flowed through the right way, and we would have heard from the community, just like we had in that case,” he said, adding, “We wouldn’t let the money leave the building until we could figure out how to get the flow of funds to the beneficiary.”

Solomon said the company has a “trust and safety” team that checks for fraudulent campaigns and is staffed by employees whose backgrounds range from the military to philosophy.

GoFundMe has helped raise more than $5 billion for causes since its launch in 2010, according to NBC News. It collects a processing fee for each donation.

The trio’s GoFundMe campaign was launched in November 2017 with an initial goal of $10,000 to help Bobbitt pay for an apartment, car, and “4-6 months worth of expenses.” The scheme began to unravel more than a year later, when Bobbitt said he wasn’t getting the money he was promised, prompting the couple to defend themselves during an appearance on Megyn Kelly Today.

Prosecutors later concluded that the feel-good story had been “completely made up.”

Solomon told Gosk that “less than one-tenth of 1 percent of campaigns result in any type of misuse.”

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“At its core essence, people are good,” Solomon said. “Sure, there are some bad apples out there, but people want to help each other out.”

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© 2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.