CLEVELAND, Ohio -- In a crisis, Clevelanders come out in force, and as soon as Northeast Ohio learned Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight were rescued people wanted to help.
“I wish I could just take Michelle in, but I’m praying and I’m praying and I’m praying and praying up for them,” said Samona Johnson.
But unfortunately what brings out the best in people can also draw out the worst, and within hours of the rescue, websites, emails and organizations began “glomming” on to the girls.
“Every high profile tragedy that’s covered by the media always brings out the scum of the woodwork,” said David Weiss, president of the Cleveland Better Business Bureau.
Weiss said people should be wary of any emails they receive soliciting donations for the women.
They could be coming from someone locally or from a scam artist in another country.
Once you click on the link, they can attach spyware or malware to your computer and see your every keystroke or steal your information creating an array of problems.
“Crowd Funding” sites have also popped up on the internet. Weiss said some may be legitimate, but it’s important to approach with caution.
“This is a way online to get many people to donate small sums of money that get very big very quickly. There’s one that’s over 14,000 in three days,” said Weiss.
T-shirts are also being sold and other product lines are promising to donate a percentage of the profits to the girls.
Weiss advised people to make sure they’re reputable people and organizations and know what exactly percentage goes to the girls. In some cases, only pennies may actually be forwarded to the families.
“How are they going to be distributed and how much will be distributed,” said Weiss.
A fundraiser is planned for Thursday, May 16, in downtown Cleveland at The Velvet Dog Nightclub, 1280 W. 6th St. Owner Joe Hanna said they saw the different unscrupulous collections taking place and wanted to ensure the girls get something to help them move forward.
Hanna is donating $5,000 right from the start, and all of the cover charge money collect plus bartender tips will go to Amanda, Gina and Michelle.
The BBB rates charitable donation sites and organization at their website, Cleveland.BBB.org.
Weiss said the BBB can safely endorse the Cleveland Courage Fund as a legitimate collection point for the girls. One hundred percent of the donations will be 501C3 tax exempt for both the contributor and recipients.
All of the money will also be used to pay for resources for the families from counseling and education to food and transportation.
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