The Occupy Wall Street protest in New York has only two official venues for donations–well, three if you count Bitcoin–but there are more than 200 online accounts claiming to raise money for the occupation. Some of those are affiliated groups or helpfully-minded syndicates–legal defense funds, generator funds, food funds, to personal fundraising to get to an occupation (transportation), and “scholarship” funds, for occupations across the country. But some of them are looking like scams.
Betabeat discovered an account on WePay.com, “Occupy Wall Street Fund,” which purported to be raising money for the organizers behind the New York City protest. One of the original organizers, Victoria Sobel, told us that the account looks fake–the fund claims to be raising money for things like cell phone service and medication refills, which the protest doesn’t pay for, she said. [UPDATE: This fund is legit, Betabeat discovered, after a protester got back to our request for contact. The money went to the group that runs the OccupyWallSt.org site. But there are others, including a WePay account attempting to raise $10,000, she said, that are dubious.]
Organizers plan to address the problem and try to get rid of some of the scammy accounts, she said, but it’s not being addressed just yet. “We’re actually facing eviction at the moment, so right now it’s not our top priority,” she said, referring to the city’s effort to clear the park tomorrow. “But protecting the interests of our very generous donors is very high on our list of priorities.”
A lot of the accounts are using WePay, the Palo Alto-based Y Combinator alternative to PayPal. Betabeat called WePay’s head of marketing, Julia Kung, to ask about fraud protection. “Is this related to the occupations?” she asked immediately.
Actually yes, we said, surprised.
Apparently there are more than 200 accounts on WePay alone raising money for various occupations, and the startup has been getting questions from customers curious about their veracity. “The thing with the occupations is that there’s not a roster of people who belong to Occupy Wall Street,” she said. “Since the Occupation does not have a list of people for us to verify accounts against, we have been extremely careful in scanning these accounts. We do not process donations related to campaigns that are found fraudulent.”
WePay aggressively investigates accounts that may be fraudulent, she said, with a staff of background checkers who look at social media and user-provided information to figure out whether the cause is legit. If fraud is discovered, donors are never charged, she said.
The amount of money raised for occupation-related campaigns on WePay is now over $100,000, she said.