Charity fraud under the spotlight as #fakepoverty goes viral

An 18-year-old girl (R) in Mahasarakham that receveid several millons baht after her her story broke out in the media.

Thais’ generosity has never been lacking when it comes to pleas for donations. And thanks to mobile banking, money can now be transferred almost immediately to people in need. But occasionally, recipients turn out to be less deserving of our charity than they first appeared.  

Earlier this month, it took an 18-year-old girl just four days to raise several million baht after she spoke to media about her dream to overcome abject poverty and become a doctor. Netizens’ hearts were touched by her successful battle to win a place at Mahasarakham University’s Faculty of Medicine.

However, her story quickly unraveled under public scrutiny as it became clear she was not really that poor. Photos surfaced showing the would-be-medic owned dental braces, an iPad, and several expensive perfumes, items some of the donors couldn’t afford themselves.

The faculty, which is poised to admit her as a first-year medical student, is investigating points raised on social media and has so far discovered that her family home in Kalasin province is indeed small and shabby.

Netizens, however, are so upset that the hashtag #fakepoverty (#จนทิพย์) is now circulating online. Meanwhile, others point out that it’s become a lot easier to get student loans under generous conditions these days.

What donors can do

Lawyer Ronnarong Kaewpetch, who chairs a network campaigning for justice, said people who feel they have been manipulated into donating money can file a police complaint of public fraud.

The Criminal Code states that persons convicted of using false information or concealing facts to attain assets from others face up to five years in jail and/or a maximum fine of Bt100,000.

Lawyer Nitithorn Kaewto, aka Lawyer James, suggests victims could also consider filing a complaint of computer crime or a civil lawsuit.

Charity can be deadly

The would-be medic is only the latest in a string of high-profile charity cases that have stirred controversy.

Just last year, a 72-year-old taxi driver received more than Bt8 million in donations after his story of financial struggle during the COVID crisis made headlines. His background, however, came into question when the owner of the taxicab rental firm complained that he had failed to pay his outstanding bill despite the cash windfall.

Meanwhile a case last May proved that public sympathy can even be fatal. Police say a 29-year-old woman poisoned her adopted daughter and son to attain money from sympathizers under the pretext that the two children suffered from a rare disease. Doctors and the girl’s biological mother raised the alarm after the girl died from suspected poisoning. The woman had been handed more than Bt20 million in donations before being caught.

Buddhist advice for kind souls

To ensure their donations go to the right people, people should do due diligence before making transfers, say experts.

If a plea for donation is posted on social media, check who has posted it and whether this person or account can be verified. Social media accounts that are only sometimes active can be suspicious. Also, Google the person’s name to see if they have a dubious past or a record of engaging in shady activities. And when transferring money to a foundation, make sure the bank account is actually in that foundation’s name.

Renowned monk Phra Maha Praiwan says even though compassion is good, the “Buddha encourages caution when giving. Think before offering help. Too much sympathy is not good. If you give to an unworthy person, you will feel bad later, and getting easy money will only encourage people to continue deceiving others.”

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk

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