Wednesday, August 04, 2021

‍‍Why ‍‍Fake Online Crowdfunding Tarnish Fastest Growing Concept In India?

The great Indian loot of crowdfunding is at its peak nowadays. Be it a pandemic help or medical emergency help or an NGO help, or anything getting murkier day after day with the indulgence of fraudsters and machinery system.

A fundraiser on a popular fundraising platform called for donations to support a woman trying to save her 3-year-old baby battling cancer. The campaign said that the little boy was suffering from acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. The post mentioned that the baby was diagnosed with blood cancer in April and that the mother was a teacher who did not have the money to afford the expensive treatment. The campaign also mentioned that Rs 30 lakh was the estimate for the treatment. The campaign also had multiple photos of a baby boy in a hospital bed and one in which the baby was seen wailing.

Sai Charan Chikkulla, a volunteer based out of Hyderabad has been actively working since the pandemic, trying to help patients with oxygen and beds in hospitals. On July 9, Charan received the link to this particular campaign and was asked to help verify if it was genuine. Following which he tried to reach out to the creator of the campaign via Twitter, but to his surprise found that he was soon blocked. Another person on Twitter mentioned that an account (@rakhisingh81) was blocking all those who posed questions to her about this particular campaign. When TNM looked up the handle on Twitter, the account had its tweets protected and the account’s timeline was restricted. Another account (RiyaSingh_1993) which was also promoting the campaign enthusiastically, also restricted its tweets when people began calling them out.  

Charan wrote to the fundraising platform to alert them of the possible discrepancies. In his mail, a copy of which #KhabarLive has, Charan mentioned four reasons why the campaign is likely to be fraudulent. The reasons included absence of hospital and billing information. He also mentioned that the handle promoting the campaign on Twitter was blocking all those reaching out with queries. Another observation mentioned was that the target of the campaign was initially set for Rs 10 lakh, but was later increased to Rs 30 lakh. Charan’s mail however, did not evoke any response. A reminder was sent to the fundraising platform on July 11, but he still didn’t get a response.

Interestingly, the campaign was soon stopped by the platform and a message on the campaign page read, “This campaign has stopped and can no longer accept donations.” The campaign had already managed to raise Rs 27.74 lakh out of the Rs 30 lakh target that was set.

When #KhabarLive asked Milaap about this particular fundraiser, the platform said that the fundraiser was reported by a few users on their page. “Our trust and verifications team re-investigated this, including a physical visit to the hospital. We found the facts mentioned pertaining to the treatment and hospitalization as misleading. We immediately paused the fundraiser and have sought explanation from the family. The family contested our decision with alternate information, and hence we formally sought an explanation via our legal channels, as is our process to ensure authenticity. In case of no response to our legal notice within stipulated time, donors will be informed about the events that transpired through an update and donations will be refunded. We will also report the fundraiser to law enforcement and pursue legal remedies available to serve as a deterrent.”

Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj, an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker had recently taken to Twitter to call out a person who had started fundraising campaigns. She got to know about this fundraiser through someone who sent her the link. Deepika, like Sai Charan, often helps amplify campaigns and also reaches out to people who start these fundraisers for more details. Speaking to #KhabarLive, Deepika said, “Someone had sent me the link to this fundraiser. I got in touch with this man from Hyderabad and that is when he told me he had lost his job and that he was struggling to feed his young daughter. I asked him for supporting documents and he said he would share them with me.”

Despite waiting for several hours, Deepika never got the documents. “I realised this was a red flag. I soon realised there was another campaign too on Milaap that was started by the same person. Twice when I tried to reach out to him, he did not answer the call. From experience I knew these were red flags. Also, one of the two campaigns started by him had already raised around Rs 40,000 by then.,” added Deepika.

“The fact that the campaigns did not have supporting documents and that the man’s daughter’s age was mentioned differently in different places, made me more suspicious. I immediately reached out to Milaap and alerted them. The platform tried to verify the details and as they failed to do so, they mailed me saying that the campaign was closed and that the donors were all refunded their money,” explained Deepika.
In response to Deepika’s mail, Milaap’s representative responded saying, “Given the evidence in place as well as the organizer being non responsive despite multiple follow ups to seek clarification, we have deemed this fundraiser as misleading with an intention to defraud the platform and donors.

Therefore, as the campaign is found to be fraudulent, we have refunded the donations made with immediate effect as per protocol.”
#KhabarLive tried to reach out to the man who had started the campaign on Milaap to find out why he had abandoned the campaign and become unresponsive during the course of the campaign.

Speaking to #KhabarLive, the man said, “I had started two campaigns on Milaap. One for myself as I was in a financial crisis, and another campaign to raise money for my friend Raju. He was in need of money, and as I too didn’t have enough, I started a campaign for him. While the campaign was going on, we mortgaged some gold that Raju and I had and we raised the needed money. Hence, I just left the Milaap campaign without closing it.”

When asked if he later managed to find a job, he said he found a job in an automobile showroom in Hyderabad and that’s where he is presently working. He also said this was the first time he had started a campaign to raise funds. “Whatever details were asked by Milaap, I provided them the same. I got around Rs 40,000 from them,” he added.

Charan and many other such volunteers have noticed such red flags in several other campaigns. “It takes a lot of time and effort to verify these crowdfunding campaigns. I have identified nearly six fraudulent campaigns in the last few weeks. In some cases, we check with the concerned hospital and in some cases- we crosscheck with the patient or their relatives.
We also came across cases wherein someone not even related to the patient was found raising money in their name. The patient wasn’t even aware of such a fundraiser that was underway.”

Deepika felt that the onus of checking the veracity of these campaigns should lie with the fundraising platforms. “It is impossible for people to individually check these campaigns. Platforms need to verify documents and only then put out campaigns,” said Deepika.

Fundraising platforms

Over the years, several financing and fundraising platforms have become popular among those hoping to crowdfund. Crowdfunding campaigns to raise money for COVID-19 treatment, cancer, transplants, accidents, education, flood relief etc are the most commonly visible campaigns on these platforms.

#KhabarLive reached out to three popular platforms to find out if they had a mechanism in place to verify fraudulent campaigns. Here’s what we found:


Ketto hosts around 5000 campaigns on a monthly basis. While the platform offers a “zero platform fee” option, it relies on voluntary contributions. The platform also has a service-based model wherein they assist campaigners with content, photographs, videos and promote it as ad campaigns. Customers are charged anything between 5% to 13% of the funds raised.

According to Ketto, they reject approximately 23% of campaigns because the campaigners failed to provide additional proofs and documents.

Throwing light on the platform’s efforts to identify and eliminate fake campaigns, Varun Sheth CEO& Co-founder, said, “At Ketto, our endeavour is to provide a seamless experience to both campaigners and donors to help them raise funds for their projects. All the campaigners are required to go through a stringent verification process, a campaigner needs to submit legal identification proof, documents supporting the cause, a cost estimation letter, etc. Once the documents are uploaded, a dedicated team authenticates the campaign based on the submitted legal identity proofs.”

“In case we are not satisfied with the submitted proofs we ask for additional proofs, videos, and pictures to support the cause. If the campaigner fails to provide the same, the campaign will be removed from the platform and a refund will be initiated to all the donors. It is imperative to note that the donor’s money is completely secured with Ketto. We constantly thrive on minimizing imposter campaigns.”

The platform encourages donors to support a cause if they personally know or trust the campaigner and are sure about the cause. Donors are also allowed to ask questions about the project using available features on the fundraiser page.

Impact Guru

This platform mentioned that they transfer funds only to the personal bank accounts of patients or family members of the patient against verified bills.

The platform also mentioned that they have a 5-step due diligence process in place.
1) OTP verification for campaign creations
2) KYC and medical documents verification
3) Hospital verifications through in-person visits or telephone calls.
4) Fund transfers to hospital/healthcare services companies.
5) PAN/ KYC verification for fund transfers to personal bank accounts.

A spokesperson from the company also mentioned, “We continuously keep evaluating how to improve our processes to make them even more robust. Our processes are more advanced than most crowdfunding platforms in international markets.”


Milaap says it has been recording around 20,000 campaigns on an average every month. They have raised around Rs 1400 crores for more than Rs 4,70,000 needs across India.

The platform does not charge any fees on donations. They rely on voluntary tips from users.
When asked about how often the platform comes across fake campaigns, Anoj Viswanathan, Co-founder, President, Milaap said, “Everyday, we see anywhere between 500 to 800 fundraisers set up on the platform. We carefully review each and every active fundraiser on the platform to ensure they comply with our T&C as well as provide sufficient information and supporting evidence for their needs.

This review process ensures that an overwhelming majority of fundraisers which raise any amount are safe and legitimate; fraudulent and misleading campaigns make up less than 0.05% of all fundraisers.”  

“Apart from our own internal teams and processes, Milaap also proactively listens to the larger community of users by providing them the option to report a fundraiser anytime via the website or social media if they are misleading or suspicious in nature. All such reported fundraisers are carefully investigated again and if legitimacy is not established, donors are informed and refunded of their donations.  With each fraudulent case, our systems are also constantly improved to minimize these in future,” added the co-founder.

The platform not only removes fundraisers found to be fraudulent but also reports such fundraisers to law enforcement and pursues legal remedies available to serve as a deterrent.  
Highlighting some of the other features, Anoj said, “We also have several parameters in place to ensure donation helps the intended beneficiary and the funds are utilized for the cause intended. For example, we prefer to transfer money to treating hospital’s accounts for medical ailments. We transfer funds against relevant documents, bills/invoices, and that an update is posted on the campaign page to inform donors. Also, a live ticker on the fundraiser page shows the funds collected, the number of donors and supporters and options to directly get in touch with the campaign organiser for any clarification.” 

Fundraising platforms have been a real blessing for several campaigners hoping to raise money for an unaffordable surgery or any other expenditure.

Several campaigns have been successful in raising huge amounts for the intended purpose. Seeing the success of such campaigns, and the ease of making quick money without any real effort, fraudulent people too are increasingly starting fake campaigns and fundraisers.

Donating and supporting genuine fundraisers is necessary. To ensure this happens, it is important that fundraising platforms put out campaigns only after thorough verification of credentials of the campaigner. The onus must lie on the platform.

Charan rightly summed up saying, “Urging donors to be careful while donating is a dangerous precedent. Because it will cause fear among the good-hearted people who genuinely support campaigns.

It is impossible to ask people to verify each campaign before donating. Fundraising platforms must have dedicated teams to do deep verification of all the credentials, documents and other details before launching a campaign.” #KhabarLive

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