North Texas

Money Raised to Help Hurricane Harvey Victims Is Tied Up in Facebook Fundraising Platform

Hurricane Harvey's damage was evident — and everywhere. For Dan and Tracy Moses, a home they spent all of last year remodeling was gone. Hundreds of miles north in Weatherford, cousin Scotti Rzepniewski couldn't believe the couple's video of the damage.

"It looked like it had been hit by a bomb, and then someone hosed it down. It's just devastating. Tears just stream down your face when you look at it," Rzepniewski said.

She immediately asked for help on Facebook.

"I'm just making a call on Facebook for household donations, for items. And the minute I posted that on Facebook this fundraiser popped up on my newsfeed," Rzepniewski said.

The message from "Facebook Donations" asked if she wanted to start a fundraiser for Dan and Tracy Moses.

"I started the fundraiser on a Thursday. By Saturday, we had three to four thousand dollars. I just thought it was so sweet, people that didn't even know them were donating," Rzepniewski said.

Facebook soon sent a message asking for her banking info and her Social Security number, claiming it was needed to send her the money raised and report the earnings to the IRS.

She gave them the info, but Facebook staff told her they couldn't verify it.

Rzepniewski said she then kept sending emails and asking for help.

"Any time they ever responded, it's, 'We're looking into it, and it's going to be 7-10 days,'" she said.

When she realized she had given banking and Social Security information to someone who sent her a message on Facebook, she panicked.

"I said, 'Should I just end this? You're not responding. I'm starting to think this is fraud. Should I hire an attorney? All these people, they don't know me. People are donating big amounts of money, and I'm just sick. I'm gonna jump on a plane and head to Palo Alto. Where is my money?'" Rzepniewski said.

NBC 5 Responds reached out to Facebook on her behalf, and almost immediately she received her cash.

"From the minute you responded I took a breath and, 'OK,'" she said.

The money is in the Moses hands now, and the rebuilding process is underway.

"The money we raised is not going to buy a house, by any means, but they're both so grateful for it," Rzepniewski said.

Although it turned out to truly be Facebook, and the donations were legitimate, it's another reminder we all have to be careful online.

Always make sure you know exactly who you're talking to before turning over such valuable information, and have a reliable way to communicate with them should something go wrong.

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