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Allegations swirl around kids charity after scam tricks parents out of cash

By Li Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-15 09:40

A Beijing-based charity was put on the defensive on Wednesday after a man who allegedly worked for them also allegedly swindled the parents of sick children out of millions of yuan.

A man surnamed Ke, according to media reports, allegedly tricked the parents out of more than 10 million yuan ($1.37 million) by claiming to work for a government-endorsed foundation this year. It has been reported that he has surrendered himself to the police.

The fraud claim is swirling around the China Charities Aid Foundation for Children's signature charity program, an emergency aid project for children's diseases called "9958", which sounds like "save me" when read in Chinese.

The project was launched in 2012 and aims to raise funds to ease the financial burden facing families with severely ill children.

Allegations have emerged online since last month that a charity worker surnamed Ke, in charge of the program in Hebei province, had raised large amounts of money from parents anxiously seeking diagnoses for their diseased children and then disappeared.

According to media reports, Ke, using the name of the person in charge of the 9958 project, designed a scheme to persuade parents to deposit money into the project, with the promise of hefty cash returns after a 20-day period.

A parent surnamed Wang told the news website Top App that he encountered an advertisement for the scheme in a chat group created by the parents of sick children in July. Wang transferred 48,000 yuan to Ke via a middleman, and in 20 days received 50,000 as promised.

Wang's experience quickly galvanized many other parents in his chat group to follow suit, and transactions made by parents in the group alone were said to have surpassed 5 million yuan, Top App reported.

However, the financial return never materialized and Ke disappeared.

Feeling betrayed, the parents stormed the foundation's office building in Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei province, slept in the offices overnight and demanded their money back, according to video clips circulating online.

Like other charity-related fraud exposed in recent years, the scandal has garnered huge public attention, and the foundation was forced to respond on Wednesday.

In a statement, it said the suspect, identified by his surname Ke, worked only briefly with the foundation as a volunteer in Hebei but was never a formal employee. It had never commissioned Ke to help raise funds for the medical program, and had never received the money in question.

The charity had called the police and Ke had been detained in Hebei, awaiting further investigation, it added.

However, the statement was disputed by posts on the 9958 project's own official WeChat account that have since been deleted.

Screenshots of the posts reviewed by Top App had identified Ke as the project's team leader in Langfang, Hebei province, and a winner of the foundation's good leadership award last year.

In the one-page statement, the foundation urged the public not to believe nor to spread rumors and wait for police to disclose the results of their investigation.

Charitable donations, made convenient by online payment methods in recent years, surged past 200 billion yuan last year, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Charities are viewed by authorities as a crucial vehicle to redistribute social wealth and advance the national common prosperity agenda.

Public anger erupted in 2011 over a woman named Guo Meimei, who posted photos of her extravagant lifestyle online and claimed to work for the Red Cross Society of China, China's main provider of humanitarian assistance. Although it later emerged that she had nothing to do with the organization, an investigation exposed management flaws in the Red Cross.

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