It could be a diagnosis of a debilitating disease, or a sudden death. If it's a tragedy, chances are someone is going to set up an online page to solicit donations to help pay for medical bills or funeral expenses.

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

But how do you know you're contributing to a legit campaign and not handing your money to a scammer looking to cash in on a community's compassion and support?

The responsibility of making that determination, most of the time, falls on you as the donor.

On the safety page of GoFundMe.com, the company notes there is "no way to 100 percent guarantee" that every campaign contains "accurate or truthful information." Donors are encouraged to only contribute to GoFundMe users they personally know and trust.

Sgt. Jeff Flynn of the State Police says donors can protect themselves by doing some research and "legwork" before contributing to a campaign.

"The best way is to try to get a direct contact, or somebody who knows a direct contact, so you can verify that you're donating to the right place, to the right organization and for the right cause," Flynn told New Jersey 101.5. "What we're going to tell people is, 'Donor beware.'"

Stories related to GoFundMe fraud have been popping up across the country, sometimes resulting in criminal charges.

Earlier this year in New Hampshire, a 26-year-old woman was arrested for emptying the GoFundMe fund of a page she created for a family who lost their daughter.

According to Flynn, posting a false or misleading campaign on sites such as GoFundMe could be considered theft by deception in New Jersey.

Also on New Jersey 101.5:

 

Sign up for the NJ1015.com Newsletter

Get the best of NJ1015.com delivered to your inbox every day.