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Emergency crowdfunding grows exponentially

posted Dec 6, 2014, 2:05 PM by J Shaw   [ updated Dec 6, 2014, 2:06 PM ]
SHORELINE, Wash. -- Camille Varela was crossing a Shoreline intersection on her way home from school last month, when she was hit by a hit and run driver.

"They actually stopped and looked at me," she said. "I told them I needed help and not to leave, but they got back in the car and drove away."

When help finally did arrive, one thought went through her mind.

"I thought, I can't get in this ambulance. I can't pay for this."

Camille puts herself through college waiting tables, but with a severely broken leg, she won't be able to work for at least five more months.

With no insurance, the prospect of paying her rent, let alone tuition seemed impossible, until her boss at Seattle's Toulouse Petit restaurant started a campaign in her name.

Friends and strangers started chipping in, giving Camille a cushion to rest on.

"I was just shocked by the generosity of people," she said, wiping a tear from her eye. "It's awesome. I'm a lucky girl."

Crowdfunding used to be just for business ventures and start-ups, but "personal emergencies" from broken legs to house fires are the fastest growing segment on Donations have tripled over the past year to more than $21 million.

Crowdfunding websites usually don't do background checks on those asking for money.

"It's ripe for exploitation," said Washington's Assistant Attorney General Jake Bernstein.

In May, Washington was the first in the nation to sue a group of crowdfunding campaigners for fraud. Bernstein says, when it comes to emergency giving, stick with those within your circle.

"Knowing the people involved is very important, or at least being able to have no more than a couple of degrees of separation from the event itself," said Bernstein.

As for Camille, she's just grateful for those helping her get back on her feet again.

"There's more good people than bad people," she said. "This sort of thing helps bring our communities together."

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