Dec. 18, 2012 -- Even as Americans by the thousands are reaching out to help survivors of Newtown, Connecticut's, mass shooting, a few malefactors appear to be perpetrating scams to try to profit from it.
Gestures of support include credit card donations to a special website created by the United Way of Western Connecticut, which went live Friday night. Since then, Executive Vice President Isabel Almeida tells ABC News, online contributions have totaled more than $1 million. The Newtown Savings Bank says it has collected another $55,000 in the form of checks.
Other gestures have been highly personal.
Pie-maker Beth Howard of Eldon, Iowa, announced Friday on her website that she was loading up her RV with baking supplies and heading east. Her plan: to spend a week in Newtown, baking pies and giving them away to anyone who wants one.
Reached by ABC News in Flanders, New Jersey, which she is using as a staging area, Howard says she expects to arrive in Newton tomorrow, after having filled her pie-bunkers to the brim. She intends by the weekend to have given away 750. With the help of a donation of apples from a local orchard and the donated labor of 50 baker-volunteers, she made 100 pies yesterday.
The moment she announced her intentions online, she says, donations to buy baking supplies and gas started pouring in. She raised $2,000 almost immediately, which since has swelled to $5,000. That's more than she needs for her expenses. She will donate the remainder to grief support groups in Newton.
The United Way reports that other highly personal donations have included grief counseling itself—offered by doctors and other professionals, some of whom have been able to bring with them trained therapy dogs. United Way Director David Deschenes says the dogs are proving to be an enormous comfort to affected children. "They're really good for the kids," says he of the dogs--"something soft and warm and friendly to hang onto."
Other offers of help have come from overseas—from as far as Portugal and as close as Canada. A lady in Upland, Calif., called to tell Deschenes she had instructed all her friends not to get her any gifts this Christmas, but instead to give her money she could donate to Newton relief. According to The New York Times, an unidentified North Carolina donor, when he learned the Newton firehouse was raising money by selling Christmas trees, bought 26—one for each of the children and adults killed.
Almeida says the United Way's dedicated website, went live Friday evening. "We jumped in just as quickly as it was possible to act. We've been getting calls from people all across the country and the world wanting to help. People want to do heartfelt and meaningful things," including, she says, donating tangibles, such as food. Others want to work as volunteers.
While the Red Cross, United Way and other high profile charities are happy to be contacted, Almeida says anyone who wants to help should start by calling the phone number for Connecticut's social services hotline, whose staff are serving as a clearing house for matching good intentions with established needs. People within Connecticut should call 211. Persons outside should call 800-203-1234.
As for the possible malefactors: Website NotB4coffee.com reports that no sooner were the names of the first victims released, than Facebook and other web pages in their names began appearing, some soliciting donations. Shea Wong, a columnist for website Technorati, speculates that some fraction of these are illegit. She says that even fraudulent sites that do not request donations can make money for their creators other ways: Simply by attracting clicks and Likes, a site can make its re-sale value climb, so that when the perpetrator eventually sells it, flipping it to someone else, he does so at a profit.