Fraud Alert: Fake Crowdfunding

During the COVID pandemic, especially the second wave, we found many people benefited from crowdfunding. The money contributed by several people helped needy patients receive in-time treatment and, in some cases, helped the families of the deceased to bring their lives back on track. Unfortunately, fraudsters have penetrated crowdfunding too. The new racket is about crowdfunding the cost of expensive surgery in the name of poor and needy patients—but it turns out that the amounts raised are grossly in excess of what is needed. 
Worse, it seems to be a well-oiled racket that takes advantage of good Samaritans who do not bother to check details merely because the request emanates from well-known crowdfunding websites.
Unless checked, this racket could shatter the faith of good people and deprive those who really need help from getting it.
Fake Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding is usually done to raise funds for medical emergencies or for really deserving people getting the necessary help for their projects or livelihood. The internet and online payment systems have made crowdfunding a useful avenue for fundraising by NGOs. In India, websites like Ketto and Milaap are known as specialists in crowdfunding and have helped thousands of needy people raise funds.
In a shocking exposé last week, Dr Prashant Mishra, a cardiac surgeon, posted a long Twitter thread with images about how many people, perhaps in league with hospitals, were raising funds that were far in excess of the cost of treatment or surgery. As a practising doctor, he pointed out that in many cases, the surgeries for which funds were raised were either simple or being conducted free in large hospitals. But, even in the case of private hospitals, the funds being raised were as much as three to four times what would be the total cost of surgery. 
For instance, Dr Mishra shared a letter uploaded on Milaap to raise money for surgery. He says, "...same surgery in the same city and in reputed hospital costs around Rs2.25 lakh, here fund raised demand was Rs6.5 lakh."
"Just imagine that (according to sources) this estimate letter is given by a homoeopathic doctor (not by a paediatric cardiac surgeon), is it not a legal responsibility of Milaap to accept a letter from an operating surgeon," he asks. 
In another tweet, Dr Mishra talks about fund-raising in the name of renal transplant by someone who already raised Rs22 lakh for kidney stone treatment. He says, "I don't know anything about cost related to kidney stone, but I heard renal transplant is done between Rs10 lakh-Rs15 lakh and here for only kidney stone Rs10 lakh demand was raised and amount raised was Rs22 lakh."
The cardiac surgeon also raised an alarm about massive amounts collected in the name of gall bladder removal surgery. He says, "Now liver transplant can be done in Rs25 lakh -Rs35 lakh, I think, but here money demand was Rs200,000 for something related to gall bladder and fund was raised for around Rs33 lakh. If it is gall bladder removal surgery then it can't be more than Rs2 lakh-Rs2.50 lakh."

The Hawk Eye (@thehawkeyex) posted a message on Twitter saying that Milaap responded to three suspected campaigns, which were found fraudulent.

He further says, "Crowdfunding platforms are running without any internal or external audit. YouTube is filled up with staged videos. Platforms put taxation and laws onus on the fundraiser. Foreign funding is happening without any documentation (remember Rana Ayuub). Strict regulation is needed."

Earlier this week, Dr Alok Gupta shared a message of Dr Prachi Jain from Max Hospital in the national capital region (NCR), Delhi. The message reads, "Dear all. This is a warning message. This person has photoshopped my estimate letter given to a patient and started a FRAUD fundraiser at Ketto. Please beware of such frauds. Dr Prachi."

Dr Gupta also shared the photoshopped letter that was used to raise funds from Ketto. This message created a furore on social media and users started questioning the scrutiny or lack of scrutiny at the fund-raising platforms.

Responding to Dr Gupta's post, Ketto says, "We have taken note of the same and have therefore decided to take down the fundraiser and suspend the account. It upsets us to learn that people would take advantage of those who only have the intent to help others in need. We are grateful to everyone who contributed and would like to inform you all that we have already refunded the amount. No funds were withdrawn as the campaigner had not shared additional supporting information requested. Our legal team is taking necessary action."

Anyone who has donated money on one of these crowdfunding platforms is usually bombarded with incessant advertisements on email and social media. Dr Gupta exposes facts and numbers that the fund-raising campaigns have absolutely no scrutiny and, in some cases, hospitals are active participants.
Let us talk about the specific letter and how Ketto ought to have detected the fraud before accepting the campaign. Its first line says, "...Miss Tanya Singh, 24 years old female...". The third line in the same letter says, "The child has developed fungal pneumonia while on chemotherapy."

When Ms Singh is 24 years old, can she be referred to as a child by the doctor? It seems rather doubtful.

Since doctors' operation estimates are not confidential documents, they can easily be obtained by fraudsters and morphed to insert the name of fake patients, as in this case. Crowdfunding platforms, which seem to have enormous resources to publicise these campaigns, do not seem to have any checks or due diligence before accepting campaigns.  

This brings us to our main question: How does an ordinary person identify whether the fund-raising is for a genuine cause or not? The answer is simple. There are always innumerable people in need of funds. If you want to donate money, make sure that you do your own check, confirm the genuineness of the cause, or only donate when the person taking responsibility for fund-raising is someone you know and every step of the process is transparently shared. Otherwise, it is best to stay away.

Stay alert.




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25th Sept 2020
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