DENVER, Colorado — Friends and family of Dieter Kowalski describe him as funny, motivated, happy and kind.
Kowalski, who lived in Denver, was killed on Easter Sunday when a bomb exploded in the hotel he was staying in during a business trip to Sri Lanka.
Shortly after family members confirmed Kowalski's death, friends took to Facebook to remember him. A profile going by the name Meredith Hotz shared a GoGetFunding campaign in at least three comments on Kowalski's page.
In an effort to verify the campaign, 9NEWS clicked on the link and discovered Meredith Hotz, the "campaign owner," was trying to raise $3,000 "to cover the unexpected costs of funeral services his family now faces."
The GoGetFunding website prevents anyone who is not an account holder from emailing a campaign owner, so, instead, 9NEWS searched for Meredith Hotz on Facebook.
The first profile that popped up appeared to be the same woman who had commented on Kowalski's page with the GoGetFunding link. Same name. Same profile picture. Same cover photo.
9NEWS sent that Meredith Hotz a Facebook message asking if she was raising money for Dieter Kowalski's family through GoGetFunding.
"Hi Alli, I did not. Dieter was such an amazing guy so if there is such a thing, I would be more than happy to donate," Hotz responded.
A few messages later, 9NEWS sent Hotz a link to the campaign.
"That's alarming! No, that's not me!" she said.
"There was a fake profile page on Facebook for me. They had taken my photo, my cover photo, and my background photo and they duplicated that. Then blocked me from being able to see it," Hotz said she discovered after enlisting the help of friends and family,
Hotz said she then called a few of Kowalski's friends to find out if anyone else was working on a funding campaign.
"Nobody was doing that," she said. "So we worked to get the Facebook profile removed. My dad was able to go on there and find it, because they didn’t block him, and report it to Facebook. They were really, really responsive and took it down immediately."
Hotz's friends and family then reported the campaign as a fraud to GoGetFunding. She said it took the site between six to seven hours to take it down.
"I was kind of just at the mercy of hoping nobody donated. One person did donate, and I hope they do get their money back because that wasn’t for Dieter," Hotz said.
Hotz knew Kowalski through one of her good friends.
"He had a lot of really close friends and I was happy to be acquainted with him," she said.
Not only did the person behind the campaign use someone who knew Kowalski to try to gain the trust of any potential contributors, but they also included a paragraph detailing his life and legacy.
"While it was really nicely written, I didn’t write it," Hotz said.
A quick google search by Hotz on Tuesday revealed the unlikelihood that the campaign creator wrote the tribute either. Hotz found a GoFundMe campaign created last week with the same language minus Kowalski's name.
Hotz said she discovered on Tuesday that two more campaigns had been created under her name to raise money for Kowalski.
"I think Dieter would be appalled at this behavior. He went to great lengths to always help everybody and I think he would be absolutely appalled that somebody would do this and use his name and his death to play on people’s emotions and get them to donate to a false site that has nothing to do with Dieter. None of that money is going to him," Hotz said.
Hotz wants others to know that there are ways to ensure your money is going to the intended cause.
"A lot of times, the people trying to take advantage of others will use a website that has some of those words in it. It will be something fund me or go something-something. So that's one thing to be aware of," said financial expert Kyle O'Dell.
O'Dell also said another critical step is to "reach out to the friends or family members that are posting this."
At first, Hotz was unsure if she should get law enforcement involved.
"This has just been such a distraction to what we’re supposed to be focusing on. That’s the life of Dieter and the people who loved him and celebrating his life and his legacy. This is just such a distraction and it's unnecessary. So, I don’t know if I want to continue it and make it bigger but I also don’t want anybody else to get scammed," she said.
Once she discovered the additional campaigns in her name, Hotz decided it was time to contact the appropriate authorities.
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