CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Pamela Webster was known to the family of David DeKoning as a trusted friend to his mother Sally.
Webster was a confidant, someone who was by her side in the dark days after DeKoning, 47, suddenly died in May. She was so trusted that the family thought nothing of it when she started a GoFundMe account to help DeKoning's widow and daughter.
"She said I'll take the lead on it and I'll do it, and I said I'll be grateful. I let her do it," Sally said.
Webster wrote the following on the page: I have been truly blessed to be "adopted" into this very beautiful and loving family, which is why I am asking for your help for them.
Sally says that is true.
"We did adopt her. The whole family thought of her as family, the whole family. Not any more, family doesn't do this to family," she said.
Posts from the site show she collected $1,200. But as time passed, DeKoning's family began to wonder, "Where is the money?"
Webster began to avoid contact and eventually blocked the family members, according to DeKoning's daughter Gabrielle.
Sally was puzzled, and said they kept contacting her, wondering if Webster was mad at them and wondering what had happened. With suspicions growing, the family was able to pressure Webster, threatening legal action. She agreed to come to DeKoning's home with cash.
She arrived with $150, a fraction of what she had collected.
The exchange was captured on an audio recording.
"This is all I have, so," Webster said on tape.
"OK, well I appreciate that. How much?" someone asks.
"It's $150 ... I'll try and do what I can ... just keep in contact with me," Webster said.
"OK," someone says.
That was the last direct contact Webster had with DeKoning's family.
Sally is left with sympathy cards and no way to even thank those who donated to the GoFundMe account.
"She took anonymous money from people we'll never be able to thank. We don't have their address, we don't know who it was. It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking," Sally said.
There are large lessons in this case, for anyone who trusts a friend -- even a family member -- with money.
Check their background. It may be uncomfortable, but it can also prevent fraud, says security expert Tim Dimoff.
"In the past six years we have seen a tenfold increase in financial missing money among people that know each other," Dimoff said.
Webster is a Licensed Nurse Practitioner in Independence. Court records show a long history of financial troubles. Deutsche Bank filed financial civil proceedings regarding the mortgage on her Pepper Pike home in 2009. She is in the midst of a divorce, and a recent suit by the city of Pepper Pike (filed in Mayfield Heights court) says she owes back taxes.
Online fraud and crime leaves victims in the lurch. If you donate or are the beneficiary of something like a GoFundMe account, Dimoff says there are things you should do.
"I think the best thing to do is to have two or three people all monitoring it and none of the money can be taken out of the fund without multiple people. Having a single person is the most dangerous way and it increases the amount of money that doesn't get to (where it's supposed to go)," Dimoff said.
DeKoning's daughter Gabrielle is a year away from college graduation. She says her mom had plans for the GoFundMe proceeds.
"She was going to pay for my schooling," she said.
After Cleveland 19 News confronted Webster, she sent a message to DeKoning's family saying she'd pay the $1,000 she owed, but if they sent anyone else after her she would view the money as compensation for her aggravation. The next day she slipped a certified check between the front and screen door.
The GoFundMe website actually has an entire page dedicated to fraud and security. If someone created a campaign on your behalf, and you're having issues, you can contact GoFundMe directly through the site. They say they will respond right away.
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