GoFundMe page for Santa Cruz firefighter whose wallet was stolen turns out to be fake

ByRandall Yip KGO logo
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Fake GoFundMe for firefighter aims to scam donors
Scammers tried to capitalize on the heartbreaking theft of a firefighter's savings by stealing from those who wanted to help.

CAPITOLA, Calif. (KGO) -- Offers of support continue to pour in a week after a thief stole nearly $3,000 from a firefighter battling the CZU Lightning Complex Fire in Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. Unfortunately, scammers are trying to capitalize on that generosity.

Fred Darland drove through much of the fire zone returning from Southern California.

RELATED: Santa Cruz officials seek help identifying suspect accused of stealing firefighter's wallet

The Mendocino man is now home and a safe distance from a dangerous situation.

Still, when he heard a thief victimized a firefighter, he grew angry.

"These guys are working their hearts out and risking their lives and some idiot does something like that," said Darland.

He felt he had to do something and has been looking for a way to support the firefighting theft victim.

WATCH: Officials give update on firefighter theft in Santa Cruz County

'To me, it;s just mind-boggling that somebody would have the audacity to do something like that," said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart during a press conference Sunday addressing theft that was targeted to a CAL FIRE firefighter.

Darland is one of many who have stepped forward.

"The support came almost instantaneously. It was pretty incredible for us to see when we put it out on Facebook," said Ashley Keehn of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Department.

Investigators say the suspect, Brian Johnson, stole the firefighter's wallet from his car that had been parked at the fire station while he battled the fire.

Authorities arrested Johnson Thursday and accuse him of stealing the firefighter's credit cards and going on a $2,700 shopping spree to purchase everything from gasoline to bitcoins.

"I don't know... it's just a shame," he said holding back tears.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Track wildfires across Bay Area, other parts of CA

Darland found a GoFundMe page set up for the firefighter, but he grew suspicious.

7 On Your Side confirmed for him that the page was indeed fraudulent, and GoFundMe has since removed the page. Still, the firefighter's family is touched by all the support.

"While they're super thankful for the generosity, they're not looking for any monetary gain or anything like that. They've been reimbursed by the bank and insurance," said Keehn.

Despite that, first responders say the support for a brother is gratifying.

"It makes me want to keep getting up in the morning and do what we're doing," she said.

Get tips from the Better Business Bureau about giving during a natural disaster or tragedy here.