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How to use GoFundMe and other crowdfunding sites the right way

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By Lindy Thackston

INDIANAPOLIS - GoFundMe, a personal fundraising website, has hundreds of thousands of campaigns.

It's easy for people to donate, and even easier for the recipients.

"I don't have to do anything except thank everybody!" said Sara Merkel.

And that's a relief for the Westfield mother of three. Merkel was diagnosed with leukemia this year.

She's getting ready to head back to the hospital for chemotherapy after she recovers from pneumonia.

"I don't like asking for help," said Merkel.

So her friend did.

"She set it up and put my story out there and within the first day, we had a bunch of donations already."

"Everyday when I go online and I check and I have that deposited in, I'm like, I can pay a medical bill here, I can pay this, I can do that," said Merkel. "It's like money dropping into my account everyday from these awesome people that are donating. I don't even think about financial stress right now."

If you met Merkel, you'd know her story is true.

But what about all the other stories on Go Fund Me?

"I can see where people who don't know me would be apprehensive to do it," said Merkel. "I would be."

Tim Maniscalo, President of the Central Indiana Better Business Bureau, says his office is getting a lot of calls, asking if Go Fund Me pages are legitimate.

"You've really got to be careful," said Maniscalo. "Anybody can make something up. It is a good legitimate way to collect funds for legitimate causes, but there's a lot of potential for abuse."

Go Fund Me doesn't check, saying they can't investigate the hundreds of thousands of campaigns. They say they do require people use their real names.

Go Fund Me and Maniscalo suggest only donating to people you personally know and trust.

If someone contacts you to arrange an alternative method of payment, that's a big sign something is wrong.

There are some certified charities on the site and you can pick those out by the "certified charity" banner in the upper right corner of the screen.

"The really emotional part of this is people want to do good," said Maniscalo. "People want to help other people and so they're thinking they're helping other people and when they find out they've gotten scammed, that's just really devastating to someone."

Maniscalo says take precautions against scammers, but don't be scared to use sites like Go Fund Me.

As Merkel and countless others will tell you, it can change lives.

"Thank you," said Merkel. "You have no idea how much stress you've taken away from me. It's just been great not having to worry about that so I can focus my energy on just getting better."

Merkel was hospitalized for three weeks in May and again recently with a complication. She is preparing to go back to the hospital for another round of chemotherapy soon.

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