Fundraisers for Miami Condo Victims Near $1.5m, but Officials Warn of Fake Appeals

Champlain Towers resident Raquel Oliveira was visiting her mother in Colorado on June 24 when the building collapsed, trapping her husband Alfredo and son Lorenzo inside. Close to two weeks after the disaster in Surfside, Florida, Oliveira's family is still unaccounted for.

Search-and-rescue teams are continuing their efforts to find missing people under the rubble, but are having to battle fierce weather from Tropical Storm Elsa and fatigue from the long days of searching for survivors. More than 40 people have been confirmed dead and 109 are still missing at Champlain Towers.

About $59,000 has been raised on GoFundMe to help Oliveira, with the fundraising page stating that the money "will be a way to alleviate some of the foreseeable stress and hardship she will endure."

It is one of dozens of campaigns set up to help the victims of the Surfside condo collapse, which have collected a combined total of at least $1,343,061—and rising. The Florida Department of Financial Services has warned donors to be wary of scams, however.

The sums donated to individual campaigns range from $20 to more than $240,000 and, of course, most of those campaigns are legitimate.

The most successful GoFundMe campaign so far is titled "Relief for Residents of Surfside FL Condo Collapse" and has amassed more than 2,900 donations, putting the total within $10,000 of its $250,000 goal.

The description for this fundraiser confirms that the money raised will "be sent directly through GoFundMe to The Shul of Bal Harbour's Central Emergency Fund to be dispersed directly to the victims and families."

Another campaign has raised more than $71,000 for Mercy and Ray Urgelles, who were in their apartment in the condo at the time of the disaster and are as yet unaccounted for.

While their family and friends wait to find out whether they have survived, the fundraiser has been set up to "help their family members, especially their children, Danny and Jenny who are safe."

Not all the campaigns are for residents. One fundraiser, which has so far collected $735, has been created by Rolando Tamames who had worked as a maintenance employee at Champlain Towers for 11 years.

Although Tamames wrote that his "losses are only a fraction of what others have lost," he said that "in a matter of seconds, I lost my friends, my job, my only income to support my family, my tools/equipment to continue to work."

Tamames added: "It is with great humility that I ask my friends and my community to help me stay above water financially as I try to find a new source of income."

GoFundMe users have also set up campaigns for the emergency services still searching for survivors in the rubble, with Circus Eats Food Truck raising money to provide meals to first responders.

This campaign, which has collected more than half of its $4,000 goal, states that "we are collaborating directly with the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Logistics Team and Global Empowerment Mission in order to ensure delivery and distribution of these hot meals to our brave men and women," as it confirms that "our efforts are ongoing."

The Florida Department of Financial Services has warned people who want to help the Surfside victims to check a fundraiser's details before they donate.

On Thursday, the agency's Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis told News4Jax that scammers had reportedly created fake GoFundMe websites.

"It's disgusting. As far as I'm concerned, it's right up there with looting after a hurricane," said Patronis, before praising the people who are actually attempting to help victims.

However, a spokesperson for GoFundMe told Newsweek on Wednesday there had been "no misuse on the GoFundMe platform related to this crisis."

The spokesperson added: "We have suspended several fundraisers out of an abundance of caution and reached out to the organizers to better understand their connection to the families impacted. Those fundraisers have not raised any funds.

"We have reached out to the state and local officials to share that update and brief them on how we're protecting donors in the wake of this tragedy."

Newsweek has contacted the Florida Department of Financial Services for further comment.

The office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody also released a list of tips to avoid falling victim to a fundraising scam. People are urged to "refrain from providing banking information to unsolicited calls or emails on behalf of a charity," and "carefully review the charity's name before making a donation."

Update 7/7/21, 11:50 a.m ET: This article was updated to add a comment from GoFundMe.

Surfside condo complex wreckage
Search and rescue teams look for possible survivors in the partially collapsed 12-story Champlain Towers South building on June 29 in Surfside, Florida. Several GoFundMes have been set up to help victims. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images