Teen duped over 3,000 donors with sob story

BEIJING • A Chinese teenager has been detained for allegedly obtaining thousands of dollars in donations after falsely claiming that her father was killed in the recent explosions in Tianjin, police have said.

The woman surnamed Yang had initially claimed on microblogging platform Sina Weibo that her father was missing as a result of the blasts, which triggered a massive fireball in the northern port city, leaving 112 people dead and hundreds more hospitalised.

The 19-year-old - who was detained by police in Fangchenggang in the southern region of Guangxi, far from Tianjin - saw her Weibo follower numbers shoot up as a result of the post, Fangchenggang police said on their Weibo account.

According to police, she then published a second post in which she claimed her father had died in the explosions, spurring more than 3,000 fellow users to donate upwards of 90,000 yuan (S$19,800) via the social media platform.

Weibo has recently added a reward function, allowing users to transfer funds to others via its own platform. Yang was unable to withdraw the funds, however, as her account was frozen after several Weibo users reported her as suspicious, police said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the authorities have launched a wider crackdown on criticism of the official response to the disaster and its aftermath.

A total of 50 websites have been shut down or suspended for "creating panic by publishing unverified information or letting users spread groundless rumours", according to the Cyberspace Administration of China.

Critical posts on social media have also been blocked, with action taken against more than 360 social media accounts. A man surnamed Kang would be held under "administrative detention" for five days for "spreading rumours", Tianjin police said on their Weibo account.

Under Chinese law, the punishment is applied to those declared by police to be guilty of minor offences. There is no trial.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2015, with the headline 'Teen duped over 3,000 donors with sob story'. Print Edition | Subscribe