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Tag: fraud

Feel-good story about homeless man’s reunion with dog took some strange turns

patrick

Getting your Huntsvilles confused is one thing, but one website really screwed the pooch when they published a story about a good Samaritan who helped reunite a homeless man and his dog.

In September, in Huntsville, TEXAS, Wilma Price was driving through a Walmart parking lot when she saw a homeless man holding a sign that said, “Dog in pound. Need help.”

Price, who runs a rescue called Mr. K’s Pet Shelter, stopped to find out his story. She learned the homeless man, named Patrick, had been arrested and jailed for trespassing, and that, because of that, his dog ended up in the animal shelter.

She took Patrick to the shelter, and paid the $120 necessary for him to get his dog — named Franklin — back.

The story was picked up by the website Life with Dogs, CBS News, People.com and many more.

Dozens of other websites reprinted or rewrote it — most of them doing a decent job of passing along the facts.

Then there was the Alabama Observer.

patrick2It reported that the story took place in Huntsville, Alabama, that the dog’s name was Wilbur, that the homeless man’s name was Mark Spencer, and that the good Samaritan’s name was Elizabeth Masterson.

The story had no links to actual news sources, and little attribution.

It wasn’t the only website to get the facts askew, but it was the only one that appeared to be making up entirely new names for everyone involved. At least three other websites published versions of the story with those erroneous names.

One wonders what might be the motivation for substituting illegitimate names into a legitimate story.

Might the exact same story have happened with different people at a Walmart in Huntsville, Alabama? Clearly not. Might the website be trying to cover its rear, legally? Maybe. Might there be something more nefarious going on, such as diverting donations intended for Patrick (whose last name isn’t Spencer) to some guy named Mark Spencer? We hope not. Might a computer program be doing the website’s writing? Highly possible.

Apparently, a bogus Go Fund Me campaign to raise funds for Patrick was launched by someone neither Wilma nor Patrick knew, and, using photos from Wilma’s Facebook page, it raised $3,000 before the page was removed from Go Fund Me.

That’s $3,000 Patrick and Franklin didn’t get. Wilma Price, meanwhile, started a campaign for him too, and it has raised more than $15,000 for Patrick on GoFundMe.

Price said Patrick has been helping her organization with rescue efforts since the two met, and her Facebook page documents their adventures together.

Snopes.com looked into the story and couldn’t figure out how or why the Alabama Observer version had new names inserted into it.

There is no contact information on the Alabama Observer’s web site, and no description of who operates it. Snopes reported it appears to accept stories submitted by users, as opposed to having its own reporters or freelancers.

We think there’s a good possibility it’s one of those websites that runs news stories through computer programs that rewrite them (with mixed results, or should I say “stirred outcomes?”).

How else could you explain the opening of this recent Alabama Observer story about clown sightings in Ohio?

“The developing rash of reported dangers including clown-faced villains has law authorization offices crosswise over Ohio and somewhere else attempting to recognize true blue dangers while cautioning deceptions are no giggling matter.”

(Photos courtesy of Wilma Price)

Please help my sick, dying, fat, abused dog

obiethen

It’s no secret that a sad dog story, properly promoted on social media, can bring in some pretty huge donations — for an animal shelter, a rescue organization, or an individual.

Whether your dog needs life-saving surgery, or even an intense diet regimen, you don’t have to be a nonprofit organization to ask the public for help — and you shouldn’t have to be.

But with the rise of social media, and online fundraising tools like GoFundMe, IndieGogo, and all those other I-would-like- some-of-your-money-please websites, there are likely more bucks than ever before being donated directly to individual dogs in need.

With all that unmonitored money pouring in, what ensures that it’s going to the rightful place — namely, helping the dog in question? What ensures any surplus won’t end up going to the dog owner’s kitchen remodel? What’s to guarantee that the sad dog story is even true in the first place?

In a word, nothing.

Just as the Internet has made us all published journalists, photographers and autobiographers, it has given us an easy route to becoming professional fund-raisers.

What gets lost in that transition is knowing who we can trust.

We can only cross our fingers and hope that those engaging in outright fraud get caught, that those soliciting funds to help a dog don’t get too greedy, and that money sent in by good-hearted people seeking to help a dog actually goes to helping a dog.

It’s a fuzzy area — legally and morally. What accounting, if any, does a private citizen raising money to help a dog owe those who contribute?

In Oregon, at least, the answer seems to be some, at least in the view of the state  Attorney General’s Office.

Since January, the office’s charitable activities section has been looking into how Nora Vanatta spent, and is spending, all the money sent in to help Obie — the 77-pound dachshund she adopted and whose weight loss program became a much-followed story.

obienowVanatta, a veterinary technician who lives in Portland, never purported to be affiliated with a nonprofit, but she did seek and accept thousands of dollars from people around the world who were inspired by Obie’s story.

Vanatta initially fostered Obie, after reading about him on the Facebook page of Oregon Dachshund Rescue.

After Obie’s story went viral, the rescue sought to get the dog back, and filed a lawsuit. The case was later settled, and Vanatta was awarded permanent custody. (Obie is down to 22 pounds.)

Meanwhile, money — Vanatta won’t say how much — continued to come in, $15,000 of which Vanatta says was spent on lawyers she hired to fight the custody battle. Some of it went to pay for $80 bags of specialty food Obie required, and a $1,500 skin-reduction surgery.

Since January, Vanatta has been answering questions from the Attorney General’s office, which began looking into the matter after receiving complaints about how she was spending the funds, and is now in the process of working out an agreement with her.

“They wanted everything – copies of every penny in, every penny out,” she told the Oregonian.

The Attorney General’s office won’t identify the source of the complaint, and it says no wrongdoing was found in how Vanatta has spent the funds so far. (Apparently, nobody in that office full of lawyers had any problem with all the money that went to lawyers.)

But the office does disagree with how she plans to spend the rest. (Obie’s PayPal account was closed last year.)

Vanatta says the office objects to her using the money to help individual  dogs with medical needs, which is maybe a little ironic given the money was raised to help an individual dog with medical needs. The Attorney General’s office frowned upon her giving $2,000 to a family she met at the Tualatin veterinary clinic where she works to help them pay for their dog’s back surgery. Instead, the office wants her to give the money away to established nonprofits, and wants to set a deadline.

The case raises lots of interesting questions, and some disturbing ones.

We’re all for the attorney general keeping an eye on such fundraising drives; slightly less for that office dictating what good causes should receive the remainder of the money, and when.

We agree with Vanatta’s reasoning on that: “I strongly believe you do not have to be a nonprofit to do good,” she said.

What bothers us most, though, next  to Obie’s previous owners letting him get so morbidly obese, is how much of the money donated has gone to lawyers — $15,000 on the custody case, another $11,800 for lawyers to represent Vanatta in the attorney general’s investigation.

Obie may be becoming a slimmer dog, thanks in part to donations from the public, but, as always, lawyers — gobbling up the bulk of the donations — just keep getting fatter.

Report of dogs thrown on highway was fraud

A humane officer for the Humane Society of Parkersburg in West Virginia made up the story that someone threw seven puppies and an adult dog out of a moving truck on I-77, investigators said Friday.

Steven Whitehair made up the story to get publicity for the humane society, said Sgt. Shawn Graham of the Wood County Sheriff’s Department.

Whitehair reported to authorities that the agency received an emergency call from a witness who said a man was throwing dogs out of a truck going north on Interstate 77 between Rockport and Mineral Wells the morning of May 8, according to the Parkersburg News and Sentinel.

Whitehair also told authorities he was cleaning the mess when the alleged perpetrator returned to the scene and confessed, however, investigators could not locate the man.

“A lot of Whitehair’s statement just didn’t make any sense,” Graham said.

Whitehair, in his original report, said the unidentified suspect got into a dispute with his girlfriend about the dogs, and then threw the dogs out of the car.

Whitehair will be charged with obstruction and possibly false reporting, Graham said.