Friday evening brought an unpleasant shock: a photo of Hugo had been used to illustrate a fraudulent fundraising attempt.
First and foremost, it is important to say that thanks to vigilance on behalf of a complete stranger who got in touch with us to alert us, the page was swiftly removed. Thankfully, no money had been donated.
The fundraising page – on GoFundMe – was set up by a woman purporting to live in the US state of Virginia. She was asking for help to raise $10,000 for ‘hotel bills’ while her son Averie, born three and a half months prematurely, was fighting for his life in hospital. The woman claimed to have been on bed rest while pregnant, but still her son was born early and was struggling with lung problems.
This was the photo used on the page:
In this photo Hugo was just two days old. He is reclining on a silk sheet to protect his very tender and delicate skin. I love how he has his arms and legs all out everywhere – such a typical Hugo pose. My feisty little boy did what he wanted when he wanted!
My precious little boy was born 16 weeks’ prematurely. He fought and fought with all he had but he was too small, too premature, and his lungs were not formed well enough. He died in my arms aged 35 days.
Seeing the photo of Hugo on this page made me feel sick.
During Hugo’s life, Martin and I posted daily photos of our son along with progress updates on Facebook. It was a good way for us to track the day-to-day chaos of the neonatal unit, as well as keep friends and family up-to-date without having to tell the story countless times.
We received so much support through these updates, support that kept us going through those long (yet all-too-short) days and nights that were so special yet full of utter torture.
Due to Facebook’s ‘privacy’ rules, sharing the story on Facebook meant that complete strangers also found out about Hugo through mutual friends commenting on our updates. Some of these strangers included other neonatal parents who gave us much-needed support from someone who had been there.
After Hugo died we received messages from other strangers who said they had been following his progress through their mutual friends, and had been willing him on. They too were so sad to learn Hugo didn’t come home. They didn’t know us, so it meant a lot to know we and Hugo had so much support, so many prayers, and that he lives on in memories of people throughout the world.
He is a special little boy not easily forgotten. Nurses who cared for him remember him more than two-and-a-half-years on, and like to recount their favourite Hugo stories, which makes me feel so proud.
Pictures of Hugo can of course be found all over my blog. Martin has blogged about Hugo too, and the picture used on the fundraising page features on this post he wrote about a Dad’s experience of the NICU.
We have shared photos of Hugo because we are so proud of him and want to share him the world. All our blog posts have been written from our hearts as a way of expressing our grief, as well as to help others through times that you would not wish on any parent.
Understandably, Hugo’s photo being used in such a way felt sickening:
Who the hell uses a photo of a baby who died to raise money for their own apparent gain?
I am saying ‘apparent’ fraud because I don’t have absolute proof of this woman not being in need.
As soon as I had been made aware of the page I went on to GoFundMe to report it. I wanted reassurance that Hugo’s photo would be removed, and that the page would be looked at because of the likelihood it was fraudulent.
The trouble with such pages is that it’s impossible to communicate with a human being. Feeling a little helpless I took to Facebook to ask for advice, and to ask for friends to join me in reporting the page, hoping that the scale of reports would prompt GoFundMe to take swift action.
I was bowled over by the number of people who reported it too, and who commented with some strong words on the page itself.
Thankfully the page was taken down shortly after. I’m disappointed to not have had any response from GoFundMe, since I made it clear that the photo used on the page was of my late son. However, I am grateful it has been removed; I guess it is not the site’s fault if people are dishonest, and the page was taken down when they were alerted.
How can you make sure you donate only to honest causes?
Advice on the GoFundMe site is:
Donors should only contribute payments to GoFundMe users they personally know and trust. We’re often asked how a donor can tell the authenticity of a personal cause found on GoFundMe. Unfortunately there is no way to 100% guarantee that a user’s GoFundMe donation page contains accurate or truthful information. As such, donors should not make payments to any campaigns or people unless they fully understand and trust the cause presented.
The majority of people are kind-hearted and are likely to open their wallets to help someone in need, even if they don’t know them.
However, it pays to be cynical. For example, the following points on the ‘Averie’ page would start alarm bells ringing (even if you didn’t realise the photo is of Hugo):
- No details of date of birth, or birth weight
- The hospital is not named
- I am no expert on the US health care system, but I know that you have to have insurance and the care of premature babies is especially expensive. There wasn’t any mention of medical fees etc.
There are of course many genuine fundraising efforts by individuals and charities alike. Thankfully, deceitful people are in the minority.
I am glad that the issue was swiftly resolved, and grateful for the vigilance of the stranger who alerted me to the page. I am thankful too for my friends who offered generous support to resolve it.