How fraudsters make billions on sick kids
One of the most cynical types of fraud is illegal money-making on charitable aid. By pulling money – allegedly, to treat sick kids – out of deceivable and compassionate people, the swindlers running such ‘businesses’ not only criminally enrich themselves, but also discredit official bona fide charitable funds – thus, reducing the amount of money reaching people who are really in need. In the modern Russia, this type of swindling is actively expanding to the Internet – with connivance and indifference of authorities. Numerous fraudsters invent new schemes almost every day. How to avoid being scammed by such false ‘charities’.
“My child, but someone else’s account details”
Andrey Maximov is a bus driver in Astrakhan. His family includes wife Natalia and daughter Ksyusha.
“In 2010 our baby girl was born, and we were happy. Initially everything was fine: we have got a new apartment, started building our nest. But 2.5 years ago Ksyusha became ill. The doctors did not expect anything terrible, but after additional tests, they have determined the diagnosis: myeloblastic leukemia. Now I know everything about this disease, but at that time I haven’t even understood what had happened. I just felt myself confused and fearful for the future of my daughter,” – told Andrey.
They had to bring the child to a Moscow clinic, purchase expensive medicines, pay for treatment. Andrei did not know whom to ask for help. The desperate young father started posting calls for aid on social networks and forums dedicated to charities. He got lots of responses from people willing to help. But there were other kinds of responses as well.
“A man who introduced himself as Oleg has contacted me. He mentioned that he is head of a charitable fund. This man promised to help and asked me to send him by e-mail scans of Ksyusha’s documents: birth certificate, medical card with diagnosis, prescriptions for tests and treatment. I sent him all the requested papers without doubt. Then Oleg disappeared,” – said Andrey.
Later it turned out that the fraudster has posted the information about the sick child on his own web-site and provided banking details that had nothing to do with Ksyusha’s parents. Oleg needed scans of the documents to convince potential donors that this is a true story and pull their money out.
“It is my child, and my pain – but someone else’s account details. Things happen,” – sighed Maksimov when thinking of unkindness and heartlessness of the scammer.
The angered father even intended to address law enforcement authorities, but could not find time for this: he was too busy struggling for the life of his daughter. And a few months later the fraudulent web-site with Ksyusha’s information disappeared from the Internet. Andrey supposes that the fake benefactor decided to be cautious. Perhaps, right now he is making money on distress of some other family.
They threatened father of a sick kid
But this episode has not shocked Andrey as much as the story with some All-Russia charitable fund. People calling themselves representatives of this organization arrived to the home of Maksimov.
“It was a holiday. In the morning there was an unexpected knock to the door. Two men and a women came in and immediately offered to sign an exclusive agreement with their fund for charitable aid. They were very pushy. I still have no idea how did they get our address,” – recallsedMaksimov.
The uninvited guests did not really explain anything, but just noted that the Board of Trustees of this All-Russia charitable fund includes an authorized representative of Putin. Then they gave to the father of the sick girl a paper that he had to sign to receive aid. But Andrei, based on his past painful experience, requested ID’s from the people who came to his home without an invitation. They could provide only scanned leaflets; then Andrei briefly went through the contract. It was stating that these people shall keep one-third of the collected donations, while Andrei Maksimov shall not communicate with other charitable organizations.
“I was shocked with impudence of these people. And when I politely asked them to leave my apartment, they started threatening me,” – told Andrey.
The visitors predicted a quick death to his daughter. They stated that it will be the father’s fault because the only way to save the sick kid is to sign their scam agreement. Maksimov had to harness his willpower and remove the benefactors from his home.
And then a real help arrived. In January 2016 Ksyusha, after finishing a chemotherapy course, had a surgery.
“I can not express how grateful I am to the people who responded to the call for help from our family. Now my daughter feels well. And me and my wife hope that the illness will not come back,” – concluded Andrey Maksimov.
“I found myself among terminally ill”
A weird story occurred with Munira Ablyazina, an Astrakhan resident. Last year she was surprised to find her photo in the list of terminally ill people whose relatives were raising money for the funeral.
“My female friend accidentally stumbled upon a charity web-site with pictures of dying people. She was horrified when she recognized me on one of the photos. She sent me a link to this Internet resource, and I could not believe my eyes,” – the young woman told to the CrimeRussia journalist.
Munira Ablyazina is alive and in good health
The web-site had a name: Help to Dying. It was saying that by transferring money to the provided account, people can assist the relatives of terminally ill people to bury them decently. This tear-jerking call for help was supplemented with photos of twenty people with their names and diagnoses. The photo of Munira was captioned as follows: “Lyutsia Mukhtarova, 26 years, Tyumen, kidney failure”.
“I know my name exactly. And that everything else was not true. But I was scared at that moment. And then I wrote an angry letter to the site administrator via the feedback form. On the next day, my photo and all the information about Lyutsia Mukhtarova was removed from the site,” – told Munira.
She does not know whether the dying girl with kidney failure exists in reality, but suspects that the fraudsters just made her up to squeeze out a tear from compassionate people using a random picture from the Internet.
After the removal of her photo, Munira hadn’t returned to this web-site located at funeral-good.org for some time. Recently she decided to check it again for any familiar portraits – and could not find the site. It disappeared without a trace.
“May be they were sued by other people who found themselves in the same situation as I did. Or the fraudsters found another, more profitable, business,” – said the young woman.
How to detect fraud?
The Internet is full of stories about sick kids who need urgent help. Of course, not all such ads are posted by fraudsters. Unfortunately, many families face these issues in reality. But the expectations of swindlers are obvious: everybody’s heart will soften after learning of a child’s distress. Therefore, the majority of ads asking for help are related to tear-jerking stories about sick children.
Most often the fraudsters use histories of real children who need expensive treatment and simply replace banking information of their parents with their own account details. In fact, they steal a portion of money that could be used for the treatment of the child. Numerous clones of well-known and respected charitable funds emerge in the same way: these clones copy web-sites of decent organizations – either in full or partially – except for one detail: banking information for donations.
For example, these are correct account details of the non-governmental fund Donate Life and correct instruction how to donate to Rusfond. And this is the form of an organization that have combined the two names together. The charity Life (Zhizn) Fund has been registered on June 22, 2015 by some Aleksey Kovalev in Saratov. But no official contact information for this organization is provided. It is also unknown whether it collects donations and how those are used.
Another example: the charitable fund Dobroe Delo (Good Deed) has many followers:
These organizations are not related to each other and, quite possibly, operate honestly under similar names. It is really difficult to distinguish the web-site of a real charity from fraudsters.
Another well-know method of defrauding deceivable people is raising funds to support victims of a recent natural disaster. Such fake charities emerge in the Internet immediately after media announcements about floods, fires, or earthquakes. The crooks are trying to collect money quickly using the state of shock among people appalled by the accident. Normally such ads disappear from the Internet in a few days – while the transferred funds can not be traced.
Malefactors also hack accounts of social network users and send requests for help – for instance for a sick daughter – to their friends. Using this trick, the fraudsters exploit the fact that people trust their friends and willingly provide assistance to them.
There are zillions of machinations in this sphere; new scams are being invented every day. But because all of those are based on fraud, it is possible to detect the swindlers. First of all, it is necessary to put attention to the organization details and legal address. The account for donations must belong to a legal entity, not an individual. It must be possible to view the full information: who collects funds, for what purpose, who specifically is the beneficiary; detailed reports on the collected money and their use must be available. Honest people never conceal nothing and do not hide from nobody.
If a potential charity responds to specific questions with vague statements about humanity and compassion, if it focuses attention only on the emotional aspect, most probably, it is not trustworthy.
There is no register of bona fide charitable organizations in Russia.
Billions stolen from sick kids
Most financial experts, including Kirill Popov, the Fundraising Director of the Charitable Fund of Konstantin Khabensky, estimate the perspectives of the Russian charity market positively. In his interview to DailyMoneyExpert, the ex-banker noted that the potential of the Russian charity sector is 1.5 trillion rubles per year. Currently, the annual turnover of this market is estimated at 50–70 billion rubles in donations.
The Russian people willingly respond to calls for help, they agree to spend a significant portion of their personal savings on charities, regardless of their income level. Isn’t it wrongful that a large part of this money ends up in pockets of various fraudsters and intermediaries?
Filipp Gross-Dneprov, an Internet expert, told in his interview to Vesti FM Radio that over 50% of donations do not reach people in need, while 99.9% calls for help asking to transfer funds to a specific account are posted by crooks. These people do not even care that some children, whom hundreds of thousands rubles are being collected for, have already died a while ago.
Summarizing the foregoing, it can be assumed with a great probability that every year good-hearted people of Russia voluntarily give some 25–35 billion rubles to swindlers. These money are being spent for everything – expensive cars, yachts, villas, private jets... But definitely not for medicines for sick children.
Suffice it to recall the most high-profile scandal with the disappearance of 20,890,831 rubles raised in 2014 for treatment of songstress Zhanna Friske.
Law enforcement authorities investigate such cases reluctantly due to the impossibility to prove the instance of fraud and find the swindlers – who cover up traces masterfully, using dummy persons and fake documents. And because the average amount paid by a person to the fraudster is normally not significant, no one is willing to bore with a criminal case because of one-two thousand rubles. In other words, until the law enforcement authorities change their attitude to this issue, fraudsters will continue making money on other people's distress and credulity of the Russians.
What the law states
According to the Federal Act of August 11, 1995 № 135-FZ (revisions of May 5, 2014) “On Charitable Activities and Charitable Organizations”, any citizens and legal entities have the right to raise donations for good causes.
However, beneficiaries of such aid can be only:
- education, health care, and social security institutions;
- research institutions;
- museums, galleries, and other institutions of art and culture;
- public and religious associations;
- other non-commercial organizations;
- the state as a whole or its individual regions.
The law defines charity as a voluntary act of citizens and legal entities involving disinterested (gratuitous or on favorable terms) transfer of assets to citizens or legal entities, including monetary funds, disinterested performance of works, and provision of other support.
The funds received through fundraising must be used, in a mandatory manner, for pre-set goals. Article 5 of this Federal Law allows donors to determine how their donations can be spent. If the funds can not be spent in accordance with the initial purpose due to changed circumstances, they can be used for other purposes only subject to a consent from the donor.
The unwillingness of law enforcement authorities to shut down all scammers operating in this sphere raises a number of questions. Apparently, the law enforcement authorities do not care much of the issue. In addition, not only do the smart tricksters use holes in the legislation allowing them to escape liability, but also patronage of corrupt police officials. Taking the huge amount of money generated by this business, fraudsters must have a really good ‘cover’ in the law enforcement.
In fact, the harm caused by fake charities is enormous. Money that could save lives end up on accounts of numerous intermediary funds or just disappear – while the Russians lose trust in any calls for help. To collect the required amounts of money, many people simply have no other choice but to ask for aid on the Internet. Therefore, the main victims of fraudsters are people who are in real need of help and expensive medical treatment.