The Scourge Of Charity Scams Online

By Emeka Oparah

Last Friday, February 12th, while on my late evening patrol on Twitter, I came across a tweet seeking help for a 2-year-old who urgently required N650k for a surgery. They already had N100k so we were talking about N550k. I was touched by the photos of the poor girl.

I promptly replied the tweet asking for more information like the actual health problem, contact details and location. I saw an account name/number (Samuel Chigozirim, ECOBANK, 0880017434) was attached to the tweet.

The person who tweeted the plea, Sarah @5khairportt graciously responded via DM immediately with more details including the girls name, the hospital where the surgery was meant to take place and the diagnosis (Sinonasal Tumor).

Immediately, I tried to contact my friend, the CMD of LUTH to see how he could assist while I also asked my colleague who Heads up CSR in my department at Airtel Nigeria to reach out to the baby’s family. Then, I put my phone away. But I became troubled one, by the poor girl’s condition and two, the suspiciously low cost of the surgery. The latter set off an alarm in my head.

I went back to the tweet and saw a couple of replies questioning the veracity of the claim as tweeted. In fact one of them replied my reply warning me to be careful but to please get back to him so he could support the cause too, if it was for real.

I barely managed to sleep as I battled between concern for the sick child and the possibility of this being a scam. I wasn’t going to commit my money or our company’s money until we verified the authenticity of the case. I remembered some fake requests I’ve dealt with in my job managing CSR including those who colluded with Medical Doctors to produce and submit fake documents claiming they had kidney failure or Cancer-only to vanish once they got some cash!

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Oh well, I kept going back to the tweet and reading some incredulous comments until I finally surrendered to sleep. But that was not until I replied the tweet again saying I was contacting the CMD of LUTH and that I would visit the hospital the next day. It was a trap.

By morning, my colleague told me about her experience with the girl’s “father”. To cut the story short, the fake man asked for “any amount”! My colleague concluded that we had a scam on our hands.

To put the final nail in the coffin of the case, the same Sarah tweeted another Appeal for another person, this time a 17-year-old girl with a tumor! The bank details supposedly for her father were similar to the previous one. I didn’t need to consult an oracle to confirm that both Sarah and her stories were fake and fraudulent.

Before I excused myself from the matter I replied to her second appeal thus: “How come this girl and the previous one both have same father?” She quickly deleted the tweets. And indeed one of the guys who suspected her replied to say he sensed it was a scam.

Now, why are people like this? Why are they doing this? Why use the images of innocent people with real medical conditions to defraud unsuspecting people? Especially, why make it difficult for people who really want to help to help? Why spoil market for other who genuinely need help?

These same people are those who harvested my photos from Facebook and used them to set up fake investment schemes or even fashion outfits to scam people. The most idiotic aspect of it is that the bank accounts are for real and, therefore, traceable! And I will trace this particular one and make an example of the Benin-based crook.

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Friends, please be careful. Help others but help those who truly need help. As my father used to say, if you are so desperate to help others that you can’t wait, dash into an orphanage or a nearby church and give it to St. Vincent De Paul. It will surely get to the needy.

These are truly desperate times and some people are taking their desperation to the next level (apologies to APC)! May God help us all.

Emeka Oparah, leading Corporate and Crisis Communication Expert, writes from Lagos

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